Right to Remain Silent?

In all likelihood, convicted murderer Paul Powell would have been sentenced to life in prison for his 1999 crime, but he could not resist gratuitously ridiculing the prosecutor. Powell’s original sentence of death was overturned because of a technicality in Virginia law: The “aggravated” circumstance in a murder that warrants the death penalty must be committed against the actual murder victim (whereas the prosecutor had proved only that Powell had also raped the victim’s sister). Powell assumed that the prohibition against “double jeopardy” thus ruled out the death penalty and so decided to gloat, calling the prosecutor “stupid” and taunting him with details of his crimes. For the first time, Powell admitted that he had also raped the murder victim. That was evidence of a new aggravated circumstance (i.e., no “double jeopardy”), and the prosecutor obtained a death sentence. In January 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Powell’s appeal.


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