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Sample Essay

Most death penalty states and federal law allow the sentence to consider LWOP as an alternative to capital punishment. In the minority of states that do not, the choice is between death and a life sentence with parole eligibility. It is particularly important that juries understand the true definition of a life sentence, including whether life means LWOP. At the time of issue of a capital offender’s future seriousness, due process requires that juries not be kept in the dark that a life sentence truly means LWOP. Research evidence suggests that jurors making sentencing decisions in capital cases frequently are preoccupied with an offender’s likely future dangerousness. They are significantly more expected to enforce a death sentence if they think the offender may be released from prison and thus present a renewed risk to society. Additional evidence suggests that jurors are likely to speculate that an offender sentenced to life imprisonment will be released after serving a relatively short time behind bars.

Commissions studying the death penalty in states that do not recognise LWOP should consider recommending that sentencing option as an alternative to capital punishment. Where life imprisonment with parole eligibility is an available alternative, consideration should be given to instructing juries about the minimum sentence a life prisoner must serve before becoming eligible for parole. It is important that juries be fully informed about the practical consequences of their sentencing decisions to avoid capital punishment being based on fanciful fears that convicted murderers will be released to prey on society again after serving only a few years in prison.

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