Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Travesty

This isn't quite Satanic/occult panic, but it is deplorable and quite frightening, legally and ethically. The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by a Texas death row inmate, who appealed his sentence because the jurors consulted the Bible when deciding whether or not to give him the death penalty in 1999.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2009/04/20/ap/politics/main4956478.shtml

8 comments:

Al Cruikshank said...

I'm disappointed. This story is more suited to a blog on "holy panic." Oh no! A juror was reading a Bible! (sarcasm) Perhaps they were sequestered in a hotel. One of the jurors mentioned they had read an obscure passage while studying the Gideons' Bible in the hotel room that made them think of the case. We don't know the details, but knowing all the anti-religious hysteria whipped up by agnostics, atheists, and Bill Maher fans, I'm willing to bet this is far more innocent than it looks. Christians and Jews don't have to consult their scriptures to know that the penalty for murder under the Mosaic law was death--without it being a metal instrument. Without regard to how one feels about capital punishment, I would give the courts the benefit of the doubt in upholding the previous verdict(s).

SME said...

It's a disturbing legal precedent. If you allow even one juror to use his scripture of choice in deciding on the death penalty, you have to let any juror do the same.

Al Cruikshank said...

And what if the juror is a Hafiz? I fear those who would dismiss a man's moral judgement if it is rooted in religious conviction. Historically, the foundation of our system of justice is rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions and scriptures. Witnesses swear or affirm their testimony on Bibles. Ever wonder where the idea of a record of bankruptcy being cleared after seven years comes from?
All sorts of people serve on juries, and there are many checks to insure that extremist views aren't represented on jury pools.
As for this being a legal precedent, I would suggest instead that the status quo is being preserved as I know of no legal prohibition on jurors having access to their scriptures when on a jury pool.

SME said...

Then I guess we should condone (or at least celebrate) the execution of witches, the deaths of children who make fun of bald men, offering your children to rapists in lieu of your houseguests, etc.?

There's no problem with jurors having strong convictions or beliefs. But if there's any indication that they've used them in place of evidence, that's a problem. The jurors in this case swear they didn't allow the Bible to influence them, but the fact that a Bible with passages supposedly relevant to the case highlighted may have been passed around the jury room prior to sentencing is very disturbing.

TK said...

I find it disturbing. I don't know how US jurys work, though. Surely they should have been applying the law, not the Bible?

SME said...

U.S. juries are like most other juries - they have to make decisions based solely on the evidence presented to them in court (excluding anything that the judge orders them to disregard), they have to follow the instructions issued by the judge, and they are usually ordered to avoid discussing or reading about the case outside of deliberation. Their decisions must be based solely on the evidence presented to them, not on religious documents or any other outside material. Frankly, if I was on trial for murder (which I hope never to be), I wouldn't want a Scientologist to bring his highlighted copy of Dianetics to the jury room and tell his fellow jurors, "Well, let's see what L. Ron has to say about all this. Then we can decide if SME deserves to die."

TK said...

Thank you, that does make it clearer, though no less disturbing.

SME said...

There are a lot of misconceptions about the U.S. jury system, thanks largely to movies and novels that portray jury deliberations being resolved with philosophical debate, emotional appeals, or maybe just fisticuffs. It's a lot more orderly in real life, and the jurists' perimeters for decision-making are usually pretty slim.