Lori Vallow is requesting that the jury selected to listen to her case not be death qualified. Her lawyers contend that doing so “distorts the jury function.”
In the filing, Vallow’s lawyers Jim Archibald and John Thomas wrote that she is also considering raising her mental health as an issue and a reason for not receiving the death penalty. She spent a year at a mental health facility for restorative care.
Archibald and Thomas say that death qualification for jurors often ignore evidence in support of a mental health defense.
Under Idaho law, only a jury can hand down a death sentence. During the selection process for a jury in a death penalty case, the jury pool is asked if they support use of the death penalty, and are not allowed to serve on the jury in a death penalty case if they believe the death penalty should not be used as a potential punishment.
“(The jury) is more likely to endorse certain insanity myths,” wrote the men citing the Journal of Applied Social Psychology. “These myths include ‘That the insanity defense is used on a frequent basis, that the insanity defense is a legal loophole,’ and that if a person, if found guilty by reason of insanity, he or she is released immediately back into society.”
Vallow spent a year undergoing restorative care at an Idaho mental health facility. Earlier this year, she was brought back to Fremont County to face murder charges in the deaths of her two children J.J. Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16. She is set to stand trial with her husband Chad Daybell in January 2023 in Ada County. Chad Daybell is also charged in the children’s murders as well as the death of his first wife Tammy Daybell.
Vallow’s lawyers filed the motion Monday. They are also suggesting that the court empanel two juries in case a penalty case becomes necessary.
“This would eliminate the merits phase biases inherent in death qualified juries and ensure a fair and impartial verdict on the merits of the charges as well as any affirmative defense and mental condition defense she is considering raising” wrote the men.
Should a jury convict Vallow on the death-eligible charge, “a second jury panel would then be chosen to hear and render a verdict in the penalty phase. This would eliminate the merits phase biases inherent in death qualified juries,” they said.
The lawyers expressed concern that during a traditional jury selection, excluding those who are against the death penalty, results in a jury made up predominantly of white people, and those who are often more conservative, male, sexist, conviction prone, more death prone and biased against defendants.
“Thus death qualification violates her right to a fair trial by an impartial jury . . . as well as her right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment,” they wrote.
Archibald and Thomas also said that death-qualified jurors are more prone to convict and to chose death as a punishment.
“This is also known as the ‘death processing effect,’” wrote the men who cited the Capital Jury Project that states “This process conveys to the jurors who undergo it that the judge and both attorneys — including defense counsel — all believe that the defendant is guilty, and the only important task remaining is to find enough jurors who do what is necessary. The necessary task, of course, is to sentence the defendant to death.”
The attorneys also cited concerns that death-qualified jurors may be too quick to convict. They pointed out a U.S. Supreme Court decision stating, “Death is different.”
“(It’s a) kind of punishment from any other which may be imposed in this country . . . from the point of view of the defendant, it is different in both its severity and its finality,” state the court. “From the point of view of society, the action of the sovereign in taking the life of one of its citizens also differs dramatically from any other legitimate state action.”
The lawyers wrote that Vallow is asking the court to provide alternative procedures in “light of the constitutional infirmities inherent in death qualification.”
She’s asking that the court prevent calling a death qualification jury and instead call for life qualification, said her lawyers.
“In this scenario, those jurors who would be excludable . . . would be eligible to sit on the jury to ensure a fair cross-section of venire and eliminate the biases inherent at both the merits phase and the sentencing, in juries that exclude this population,” they wrote. “Additionally those jurors, who would automatically vote for the death penalty, would be removed for cause as mandatory death sentences are per se unconstitutional.”
Archibald and Thomas asked the court to chose a life-qualified panel.
“Although it would not fully ameliorate the issues inherent in death qualification … this scenario would at least ensure a fair and impartial verdict in the merits phase under both the United States and Idaho Constitutions,” they wrote.