“Keep That Bible Out of The Jury Room”

A man was clearly convicted of a heinous murder. A jury of his peers, guided by the dictates of Colorado law and their consciences unanimously approved the death penalty. An Adams County district judge overturned the death penalty because the jury’s decision was in some small degree informed by reading Bible passages.

Yesterday, the morally-confused Colorado Supreme Court upheld the judge’s decision.

My question: what if jurors had consulted Bible passages that convinced them the murderer deserved clemency? Like the recent US Supreme Court decision written by Anthony Kennedy regarding the juvenile death penalty, though, it’s not as much the substance of the issue that was decided as much as the reasoning that led the majority of the justices to the conclusion.

From Justice Gregory Hobbs’ majority opinion:

Some jurors may view biblical texts like the Leviticus passage at issue here as a factual representation of God’s will. The text may also be viewed as a legal instruction, issuing from God, requiring a particular and mandatory punishment for murder.

The sane response from dissenting Justice Nancy Rice:

To presume that jurors who have a religious background cannot distinguish between the written biblical passages referenced here and the written jury instructions . . . is to underestimate their intelligence and to belittle their participation in our legal system.

Thanks, Justice Rice, for the eloquent common-sense (yet also steeped in legal precedent) dissent. The point of contention is whether the jurors’ exposure to Romans 13:1 – “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers….” – and Leviticus 24:20-21 – “…eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” – constituted “prejudicial treatment” of the convicted murder and his sentence. She rightly deemed such a contention absurd and dismantled the majority’s argument by, among other things, looking at the Bible passages in question.

Jury members were instructed, as required under law, to “apply reasoned judgment” and to “make a further individual moral assessment” of the case. Apparently, three Colorado Supreme Court justices believe that a person cannot make a reasoned judgment or a moral assessment when influenced by the Bible in its written form.

Justice Rice cited a well-accepted biblical commentary to demonstrate the ironic fact that in consulting Romans 13:1 a juror was being instructed “to follow the laws of Colorado.” If only the majority of our state’s highest court could be so motivated.

Comments

  1. Mario Nicolais says

    Ben-

    Beat me to it. Strange that the most divine law can actually make a jury trial sentence “unfair”…

  2. says

    Apparently judges are very selective of what documents a juror can consult. If only they would constrain themselves to United States case law and most importantly the Constitution! Good post Ben.

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