SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – The California Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death penalty of a man forced to wear a stun belt during trial.
The court rejected the defendant’s argument that his fear of being shocked deprived him of a fair trial.
The state high court in its 6-1 ruling concluded that even if it was a mistake to force Jonathan Keith Jackson to wear the belt, it was a harmless error that didn’t affect the jury’s decision.
Jackson was convicted of killing Monique Cleveland, who was pregnant, during a 1996 drug robbery in Riverside County.
Unruly defendants are sometimes forced to wear the belts during trial. Controlled remotely by an officer, the belts deliver an eight-second shock of 50,000 volts that knocks defendants to the ground.
Jackson argued that his fear of being shocked, through an accidental activation or otherwise, compelled him to sit impassively through the trial, and that his placid demeanor may have swayed jurors into voting for the death penalty.
Writing for the majority, Justice Marvin Baxter said the jurors would have reached the same conclusion whether or not Jackson was wearing the belt. Baxter said there was no evidence that the belt interfered with Jackson’s ability to communicate with his lawyer or caused him any mental anguish.
“There is, however, evidence that defense counsel viewed defendant’s demeanor as weighing in his favor during the penalty trial,” Baxter wrote.
Justice Goodwin Liu dissented, writing that Jackson’s demeanor during the penalty phase could have convinced jurors he was unfeeling and remorseless. Liu agreed to uphold Jackson’s murder conviction.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.