In Colorado, to be eligible for a death sentence, a person must be convicted of first-degree murder, the most serious murder charge, and also meet an extra aggravating factor.
The Denver Post reported Monday the lawyers found that between the years of 1999 and 2010, there were 544 first-degree murder cases and 92 percent of them met the criteria for the death penalty. However, prosecutors filed notices of intent to seek the death penalty in only 15 murder cases, and actually pursued death sentences in only five of them.
"Under the Colorado capital sentencing system," the authors wrote in their report, "many defendants are eligible but almost none are actually sentenced to death. Because Colorado's aggravating factors so rarely result in actual death sentences, their use in any given case is a violation of the Eighth Amendment."
The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment.
The study was conducted by University of Denver law Professors Justin Marceau and Sam Kamin, and Rowan University Professor Wanda Foglia.