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H.798

Introduced by   Representatives Wright of Burlington and Parent of St. Albans City

Referred to Committee on

Date:

Subject:  First and second degree murder; penalties; jury determination

Statement of purpose:  This bill proposes to allow the jury, rather than the court, to determine whether aggravating and mitigating circumstances exist in a first or second degree murder prosecution.

AN ACT RELATING TO FIRST AND SECOND DEGREE MURDER

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1.  13 V.S.A. § 2303 is amended to read:

§ 2303.  PENALTIES FOR FIRST AND SECOND DEGREE MURDER

(a)  The punishment for murder in the first degree shall be imprisonment for life and for a minimum term of 35 years unless the court jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that there are aggravating or mitigating factors which justify a different minimum term.  If the court jury finds that the aggravating factors outweigh any mitigating factors, the minimum term may be longer than 35 years, up to and including life without parole.  If the court jury finds that the mitigating factors outweigh any aggravating factors the minimum term may be set at less than 35 years but not less than 15 years.

(b)  The punishment for murder in the second degree shall be imprisonment for life and for a minimum term of 20 years unless the court jury finds beyond a reasonable doubt that there are aggravating or mitigating factors which justify a different minimum term.  If the court jury finds that the aggravating factors outweigh any mitigating factors, the minimum term may be longer than 20 years, up to and including life without parole.  If the court jury finds that the mitigating factors outweigh any aggravating factors, the minimum term may be set at less than 20 years but not less than 10 years.

(c)  Before sentencing a defendant for first or second degree murder, the court shall allow the parties to present arguments to the jury concerning aggravating and mitigating factors and sentence recommendations.  The court shall enter written findings of fact, summarizing the offense and the defendant's participation in it.  The court shall also enter specific written findings concerning aggravating and mitigating factors.  These findings shall be based on the evidence taken at trial and at the sentence hearing, and on information from the presentence investigation report.  The court shall specify in its sentencing decision how the jury’s findings regarding aggravating or mitigating circumstances affect the sentence imposed.

(d)  Aggravating factors shall include the following:

(1)  The murder was committed while the defendant was in custody under sentence of imprisonment.

(2)  The defendant was previously convicted of a felony involving the use of violence to a person.

(3)  The murder was committed while the defendant was engaged in the commission of, or in an attempt to commit, or in immediate flight after committing a felony.

(4)  The victim of the murder was particularly weak, vulnerable, or helpless.

(5)  The murder was particularly severe, brutal, or cruel.

(6)  The murder involved multiple victims.

(7)  The murder was random, predatory, or arbitrary in nature.

(8)  Any other factor that the state offers in support of a greater minimum sentence.

(e)  Mitigating factors shall include the following:

(1)  The defendant had no significant history of prior criminal activity before sentencing.

(2)  The defendant was suffering from a mental or physical disability or condition that significantly reduced his or her culpability for the murder.

(3)  The defendant was an accomplice in the murder committed by another person and his or her participation was relatively minor.

(4)  The defendant, because of youth or old age, lacked substantial judgment in committing the murder.

(5)  The defendant acted under duress, coercion, threat, or compulsion insufficient to constitute a defense but which significantly affected his or her conduct.

(6)  The victim was a participant in the defendant's conduct or consented to it.

(7)  Any other factor that the defendant offers in support of a lesser minimum sentence.



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us