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Legally Speaking: Decision time coming up for Jodi Arias jury

Will it be life or death for Jodi Arias and what does that actually mean?

Some sarcastically have said that the day would never come, but it will, although much later than originally anticipated.

The State v. Jodi Arias trial will end soon. Last week Judge Sherry Stephens announced the trial was on track to be completed by the end of February.

Now that the end (of the trial) is in sight, the time is ripe to discuss exactly what punishment Arias could get.

In the summer of 2008 Jodi Arias was charged with first-degree murder for the death of Travis Alexander and she was convicted in May of 2013.

Under Arizona Revised Statute 13-1105(A)(1):

A person commits first degree murder if: (1) intending or knowing that the person’s conduct will cause death, the person causes the death of another person … with premeditation …

Murder 1 carries a sentencing range of life to death, which sounds simple; however, there is confusion about what exactly the term “life” means.

That is because it has changed over the years. Since Arias murdered Travis Alexander in 2008, we have to look at the sentencing statutes that were in effect then.
Under the 2008 sentencing statutes, Jodi Arias faces a potential sentence of:

• life (25 years with the possibility of parole)

• natural life (no possibility of parole)

or

• death

Had this premeditated murder happened now, the only two possibilities would be life or death.

The possibility of parole no longer exists. The defendant must be sentenced to life without the possibility of release if convicted of premeditated murder, or the killing of a police officer.

In fact, now in a premeditated killing juries are often given an instruction similar to this:
The defendant in this case has been convicted of the crime of first-degree murder. Under Arizona law every person found guilty of first-degree murder shall be punished by death or imprisonment for life without the possibility of release from prison.

In State v. Arias the first jury was given the instruction:

Members of the jury, at this phase of the sentencing hearing, you will determine whether the Defendant will be sentenced to life imprisonment or death.

If you unanimously find the defendant should be sentenced to life imprisonment, the judge will sentence the defendant to either life imprisonment without the possibility of release, or life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 25 years.

Life without the possibility of release from prison means exactly what it says. The sentence of life without the possibility of release from prison means the defendant will never be eligible to be released from prison for any reasons for the rest of the defendant’s life.

At the current time, there is no procedure for granting parole if the defendant is sentenced to life with the possibility of release from prison after 25 years.

This was an instruction given to the first jury and it is highly probable the second jury will be given the same instruction.

Here are the possibilities for Arias:

• If the jury unanimously agrees on death, then Arias will be sentenced to spend the rest of her life on death row before she is executed by lethal injection.

• If the jury instead unanimously agrees to life, then the judge decides between life with possibility of parole or natural life.

• If this jury is unable to reach a unanimous decision, death is taken off the table and the judge must then decide between life with possibility of parole or natural life.

The jury does not have a say in whether Arias is given the possibility of parole, its job is limited to the decision of life or death.

The first jury couldn’t get the job done, will the second jury be able to?