DEATH PENALTY - ALTERNATIVE RESPONSES TO JUROR QUESTIONS ABOUT LIFE WITHOUT POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE
In response to your question about whether a person who is sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is parole eligible, you are instructed that [Select One of the Following Options]:
You should refer back to the instructions I gave you before;
The punishment options are self explanatory;
You should understand the punishment options in their plain and literal sense, and if [Name of Defendant] is sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, he/she will not be eligible for parole.
This Instruction is based on the following ruling in Littlejohn v. State, 2004 OK CR 6, ¶ 11, 85 P.3d 287, 293-94:
Therefore, in future cases where the jury during deliberations asks, in some form or fashion, whether an offender who is sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is parole eligible, the trial court should either refer the jury back to the instructions, [citation omitted], tell the jury that the punishment options are self explanatory, [citation omitted], or advise the jury that the punishment options are to be understood in their plain and literal sense and that the defendant will not be eligible for parole if sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. While arguably the latter response is nothing more than another way of referring the jury back to the instructions, it does force the jury to accept the plain meaning of the sentencing options and impose the sentence it deems appropriate under the law and facts of the case. We recognize trial courts are in the best position to decide which answer is best suited to the situation as the questions posed by juries come in a myriad of forms on this issue. However, we believe the latter explanation may alleviate some obvious concerns of jurors more effectively than simply telling the jury it has all the law and evidence necessary to reach a decision.