What Is a ''Caldwell Error'' ?

In Caldwell v. Mississippi (1985) 472 U.S. 320, "a prosecutor urged the jury not to view itself as determining whether the defendant would die, because a death sentence would be reviewed for correctness by the State Supreme Court." (Id. at p. 323.) The prosecutor told the jury that " 'your decision is not the final decision' " (id. at p. 325) because it " 'is automatically reviewable by the Mississippi Supreme Court' " (id. at pp. 325-326). Caldwell held that "it is constitutionally impermissible to rest a death sentence on a determination made by a sentencer who has been led to believe that the responsibility for determining the appropriateness of the defendant's death rests elsewhere." (Id. at pp. 328-329.) In sum, "Caldwell error occurs ... when the remarks to the jury concerning its role in the sentencing process are inaccurate or misleading in a way that allows the jury to feel less responsible than it should for the sentencing decision." (People v. Elliott (2012) 53 Cal.4th 535.) the California Supreme Court reached the same conclusion many years before Caldwell. In a case that also considered capital jury sentencing verdict issues, the court stated that "argument misinforming the jury as to the power of this court" (People v. Morse (1964) 60 Cal.2d 631, 650 36 Cal. Rptr. 201, 388 P.2d 33, italics omitted) presents the risk that jurors would believe the high court "could substitute its judgment" (ibid.) for the jury's.