A man awaiting sentencing for killing a Missouri police officer is challenging the constitutionality of a state law that allows judges to hand down the death sentence. A Missouri court recently found Ian McCarthy guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Clinton Police Officer Gary Lee Michael, Jr. After deliberation, the jury in the case told the judge that it couldn’t decide between life without parole or the death penalty. The lawyers representing McCarthy have filed a motion alleging that permitting a judge to give a death sentence if a jury has not reached a unanimous decision violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The motion further emphasizes the importance of jury unanimity to ensure that death sentences are imposed reliably, on only the most culpable defendants, and reflect the judgment of the community.
Missouri remains one of only two states in the USA to allow judges to sentence capital punishment in the event a jury deadlocks during sentencing. Though previous challenges to the deadlock rules in both Missouri and Indiana have been submitted, none so far have been successful.