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Death Sentence Reversed: Judicial Misconduct

People v. Nieves Docket: S092410, Opinion Date: May 3, 2021.The Supreme Court affirmed Defendant's convictions of the first-degree murder of her four daughters and the attempted murder of her son but reversed her death sentence, holding that judicial misconduct during the penalty phase was prejudicial. The Supreme Court found or assumed seven errors in this case, including error in the guilt phase instructions regarding discovery violations, error limiting mental state testimony by defense experts in the guilt phase, error in excluding a neuropsychological expert's testimony in the penalty phase, error in excluding Defendant's positron emission tomography scan results from the penalty phase, error in failing to admit mitigating evidence from lay witnesses, erroneous penalty phase instructions regarding discovery violations, and judicial misconduct. The Supreme Court held (1) considered cumulatively, the errors during the guilt phase did not warrant reversal of the guilt judgment; (2) judicial misconduct in the penalty phase was prejudicial and warranted reversal of Defendant's death sentence; and (3) the prejudicial impact of additional penalty phase errors increased when considered together with the judicial misconduct.

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