Terence Lenamon is known for his work in defending people who are facing capital punishment as prosecutors seek the death penalty in trying these people for serious crimes.  Much of Terry’s work is done in the "sentencing phase" of a death penalty case, where the defendant has been found guilty in the "trial phase" and now, the focus is upon whether or not he (or she) should be punished with death.

Of note, this week the United States Supreme Court handed down its opinion in an important case involving the sentencing phase of a criminal trial.

Coming out of Kentucky, the case involved defendant Robert Woodall, who did not testify in the sentencing phase of his trial.  His lawyer asked the trial judge to instruct the jury that the jurors should not assume anything bad from this – in lawyer-speak, he asked for a jury instruction that there should be no negative inference from the failure of the defendant to testify in the sentencing phase.

The Kentucky criminal trial judge declined the defense lawyer’s request and the Woodall jury was not instructed on this issue.  Woodall appealled this decision, and the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the failure to give this jury instruction was unconstitutional — it violated the citizen’s right to remain silent.

On Tuesday, SCOTUS reversed the 6th Circuit.  It’s not unconstitutional, according to the High Court.

Explained Justice Scalia in the majority opinion (read White v. Woodall here): the state court didn’t act "unreasonably" so the federal court has to defer to Kentucky here.  

Three justices dissented, arguing that the Right to Remain Silent (5th Amendment) covers both the trial and sentencing phases of a criminal trial ….

So, according to the Supreme Court of the United States, if the defendant in the sentencing phase remains silent, then the jury can assume that’s a suggestion of his deserving to die?