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Could Scott Peterson Get a New Trial?

REDWOOD CITY, CA - DECEMBER 9:  Scott Peterson (R) sits in the courtroom at the San Mateo Superior Courthouse with his attorney Mark Geragos (L) during defense closing arguments in the penalty phase of Peterson's trial December 9, 2004 in Redwood City, California. Peterson was found guilty of first degree murder of his wife, Laci, and second degree murder of their unborn son and could receive the death penalty.  (Photo by Fred Larson-Pool/Getty Images)
By Laura Temme, Esq. on March 09, 2021 12:03 PM

Scott Peterson, whose criminal trial dominated the newly-minted 24-hour news cycle in the early 2000s, may be granted a new trial after spending more than 15 years in prison. The San Mateo County Court is expected to make its decision in the coming weeks.

Peterson was convicted in 2004 of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. In the intervening years, true crime junkies have pored over his case. Many are convinced of his guilt. Others, not so much. But the California courts are more concerned about whether jury selection tactics undermined Peterson's right to a fair trial.

California Supreme Court Finds Significant Jury Selection Errors

In August 2020, the California Supreme Court overturned Peterson's death sentence. Justice Leondra R. Kruger wrote that the lower court made "a series of clear and significant errors in jury selection" that undermined Peterson's right to an impartial jury during the penalty phase.

The primary issue, the court held, was that several jurors were dismissed based on statements regarding their general opinion of the death penalty. During jury selection, thirteen potential jurors were dismissed because they indicated that they were, to at least some degree, against the death penalty on their questionnaire. However, U.S. Supreme Court precedent requires jurors to be asked whether they believe they can uphold the law, regardless of their personal feelings about the death penalty.

Separately on remand, the San Mateo County Court must decide whether another juror's alleged misconduct warrants a new trial.

Juror Failed to Disclose Involvement in Legal Proceedings

Peterson's legal team contends that Richelle Nice, Juror #7 in Peterson's trial, failed to disclose her involvement in other legal proceedings, "including but not limited to being the victim of a crime." During jury selection for Peterson's trial, Nice didn't mention that in 2000 she had been harassed by her partner's ex-girlfriend, to the point that she feared for her unborn child and filed a restraining order.

In a separate order released in October, the California Supreme Court found that this issue warranted a closer look, instructing the lower court to determine whether Peterson's convictions should be overturned.

Peterson's attorney, Pat Harris, maintains that Peterson not only didn't deserve the death penalty - but that he shouldn't have been convicted in the first place. In a video hearing before the Stanislaus County Superior Court in October 2020, Harris said:

"He's innocent. An innocent man has been sitting in jail for 15 years. It's time to get him out."

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