State v. Todd
In State v. Todd, 78 Wn.2d 362 (Wash. 1970) , the prosecution charged the defendant with capital murder. The defendant objected to an instruction which informed the jury that if it did not impose the death penalty the defendant would receive life imprisonment.
The instruction went further and explained the parole process and that the defendant could possibly be eligible for parole in thirteen and two-thirds years. See Todd, 78 Wn.2d at 373.
The instructions did not explain in any detail the parole board determination process or how it selects inmates for release into the community.
The court found this type of instruction dangerous since "it sets a standard where none has been set by the legislature and thus places undue emphasis upon one factor which the jury, whether or not it should do so, is bound to take into account." Id. at 376.
The "undue emphasis" referred to in Todd involved a charged capital crime where the jury has an active part in determining whether the defendant should receive punishment by death.
In Todd, the death penalty was involved, and the instruction in question detailed the sentencing possibilities facing a person convicted of first degree murder, including minimum sentence and parole provisions. Todd, 78 Wn.2d at 372-73.
The court found that:
The most serious vice of an instruction of this kind . . . was that it places undue emphasis upon one factor which the jury, whether or not it should do so, is bound to take into account. . . . By instructing the jury concerning the possible minimum sentence which the defendant might serve, the court suggests to the jury that it should give great weight to that possibility in reaching its verdict. Todd, 78 Wn.2d at 376.