NEW RESOURCES: State Instructions for Juries Regarding Life Without Parole Sentences in Capital Cases

In all states that use the death penalty, there are provisions for sentencing inmates to the alternative sentence of life without parole (LWOP).  Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Simmons v. South Carolina (1994), some states with LWOP did not inform the jury of this alternative even when so requested by the defense.  Today, states apply a variety of conditions and use differing instructions to inform the jury about this alternative sentence.  Opinion polls and surveys of capital jurors have shown how important this alternative is in death penalty cases.  Thanks to the research of Emma Reynolds of Drexel Law School and Intern at the Philadelphia Federal Defender, Capital Habeas Unit, we are able to offer a summary of how states handle this key issue.  Her paper, "Survey of Life Without Parole Instructions in Death Penalty States," provides the relevant statute and information about jury instructions in each death penalty state.  As with any legal research, it would be important to research any changes in the law before using this information (e.g., New Mexico has now abolished the death penalty and replaced the sentence with LWOP). The table of statutes and instructions is provided in both pdf and Excel format:

Survey of Life Without Parole Instructions in Death Penalty States (pdf)

Survey of Life Without Parole Instructions in Death Penalty States (Excel).

(E. Reynolds, "Survey of Life Without Parole Instructions in Death Penalty States," Philadelphia Federal Defender, July 2009).  See Life Without Parole and Studies. Posted Aug. 26, 2009.