Ninth Circuit OKs jury's use of the Bible in death penalty deliberations.The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has rejected a California death row inmate's claims that the jury's consideration of biblical passages about capital punishment capital punishment, imposition of a penalty of death by the state. History
Capital punishment was widely applied in ancient times; it can be found (c.1750 B.C.) in the Code of Hammurabi. during sentencing deliberations violated his Sixth Amendment rights. (Fields v. Brown, 2007 WL 2580788 (9th Cir. Sept. 10, 2007).)
"It is wrong to consider [the Bible] at trial, let alone in a death penalty case," said David Olson, the Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. attorney who argued the inmate's habeas appeal before the court.
Stevie Lamar Fields has been on California's death row for 28 years, since a jury convicted him in 1979 for the robbery and murder of a student librarian and for crimes against four others, including robbery at gunpoint, kidnapping for robbery, assault with a deadly weapon Assault with a Deadly Weapon is the term used to describe the act of threatening to harm one or more people by using a weapon (usually a firearm). Here, assault must be differentiated from battery as they are often confused. Assault is threatening to use force. , and rape. Fields committed these crimes during a three-week spree shortly after his release from prison on a prior manslaughter conviction.
At the end of the jury's first day of sentencing deliberations, the jury foreman went home, took out his Bible, and searched for passages about the death penalty. He made notes of passages supporting it, including "eye for an eye," "fitting punishment to crime," "Whoso who·so
Who; whoever; whatever person. sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God made He man," and "He that smiteth a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death."
The foreman also made general notes of points against imposing the death penalty, including "no real deterrent value--mostly because murderers not normal," and "human fallibility--perhaps wrong chap convicted." He also listed definitions of several words, including "extenuation EXTENUATION. That which renders a crime or tort less heinous than it would be without it: it is opposed to aggravation. (q.v. )
2. In general, extenuating circumstances go in mitigation of punishment in criminal cases, or of damages in those of a civil nature. ," "vindication VINDICATION, civil law. The claim made to property by the owner of it. 1 Bell's Com. 281, 5th ed. See Revendication. ," and "mitigate."
The next morning, the foreman shared the notes with the other jurors, and that afternoon, the jury sentenced Fields to die. The California Supreme Court affirmed both the convictions and the sentence.
Fields sought a federal writ of habeas corpus Noun 1. writ of habeas corpus - a writ ordering a prisoner to be brought before a judge
judicial writ, writ - (law) a legal document issued by a court or judicial officer , claiming that the jury's consideration of the foreman's notes during its sentencing deliberations violated his constitutional rights to cross-examination, confrontation, and the assistance of counsel. The district court granted the writ, finding that the jury's use of the Bible notes offended the principle that religion may not play a role in the sentencing process. On appeal, in a rehearing rehearing n. conducting a hearing again based on the motion of one of the parties to a lawsuit, petition or criminal prosecution, usually by the court or agency which originally heard the matter. en banc [Latin, French. In the bench.] Full bench. Refers to a session where the entire membership of the court will participate in the decision rather than the regular quorum. In other countries, it is common for a court to have more members than are , the Ninth Circuit reversed that finding and affirmed the death sentence.
Writing for the majority, Judge Pamela Ann Rymer said there was no need for the court to decide whether juror juror n. any person who actually serves on a jury. Lists of potential jurors are chosen from various sources such as registered voters, automobile registration or telephone directories. misconduct had occurred because the foreman's notes "had no substantial and injurious in·ju·ri·ous
1. Causing or tending to cause injury; harmful: eating habits that are injurious to one's health.
2. effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict." Rather, "both the biblical verses and the other concepts contained in the notes are notions of general currency that inform the moral judgment that capital-case jurors are called upon to make."
The foreman had, in effect, "marshaled general, commonly known points in favor of the death penalty ... along with general, commonly known points in opposition," Rymer wrote.
In her dissent, Judge Marsha Berzon pointed out that the foreman's notes were the result of his research of outside material and "were therefore significant for their factual representation that the Bible contained such statements, apart from the moral philosophy that the statements themselves expressed."
She wrote: "The case law proscribing importation of external information places its all on the proposition that this distinction matters: After we choose jurors, we want the decision made on the basis of what went on in the courtroom, filtered through the personalities, background information, and reasoning ability the jurors brought with them to court. But we do not approve of, and regard as misconduct, affirmatively gathering outside information."
Olson echoed the dissent, noting that there is no empirical support for the majority's premise that the biblical references are general knowledge.
"One of the big problems with the use of these passages is that it is completely contrary to the notion that a case is supposed to be tried on the evidence presented at trial," Olson said. It's misconduct when a prosecutor uses biblical references, he said, but "it's much worse when the jury does it on its own, because we don't know Don't know (DK, DKed)
"Don't know the trade." A Street expression used whenever one party lacks knowledge of a trade or receives conflicting instructions from the other party. what's going on What's Going On is a record by American soul singer Marvin Gaye. Released on May 21, 1971 (see 1971 in music), What's Going On reflected the beginning of a new trend in soul music. , the judge cannot give any curative instructions, and the defense has no opportunity to respond."
Anne Reed, an attorney and jury consultant in Milwaukee, noted that jurors bring personal experiences and beliefs into the jury room, "and the law says that's OK." However, by referring to the Bible, "a juror is trying to impose a moral code other than that of the state of California," she said.
Olson, who has represented Fields in his habeas proceedings since 1992, is seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Although he concedes that the odds are against it, he is cautiously optimistic that the Court will hear the case because the issue of religion-based juror misconduct transcends criminal law and has been cropping up more frequently in civil cases.