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Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Jurors

The Colorado Supreme Court issued two correct rulings today, one in the Lisl Auman case as we reported here, and another one in a locally high profile rape-murder case, in which the defendant, Robert Harlan had been sentenced to death. The Court vacated the death sentence because jurors consulted the bible during deliberations .

Ruling that juries cannot turn to the Bible for advice during deliberations, the Colorado Supreme Court on Monday refused to reinstate the death penalty in a brutal rape and murder because jurors had studied such verses as "eye for eye, tooth for tooth."

On a 3-2 vote, justices ordered Robert Harlan to serve life in prison without parole for kidnapping 25-year-old cocktail waitress Rhonda Maloney in 1994 and raping her at gunpoint for two hours.

This decision shows that the Consitution, not the Bible, rules in criminal court.

So Harlan, the merciless killer, now may not receive what he truly deserves for his crimes. But his jurors certainly got what they deserved -- a painful but apparently necessary reminder that in our courts we turn to the Constitution and not the Bible when we are looking for answers. Add in the fact that, in the end, it was the Bible that both condemned and saved Harlan and, well, you get yet another irony that’s part of this sad story.

Jurors are not allowed to consider outside material that has not been admitted into evidence, let alone use such material to convince other jurors to convict. Kudos to Kathleen Lord and Sharlene Reynolds of the Colorado State Public Defenders Office for getting the reversal in the first place from the trial court, as we reported here.

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    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#1)
    by pigwiggle on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 05:43:36 PM EST
    TalkLeft- ďThis decision shows that the Consitution, not the Bible, rules in criminal court.Ē I apologize for my perhaps naÔve, or otherwise mistaken assumption, but am I wrong in thinking that a juror can judge the defendant, the law, or whatever. Consider; what if the juror who used the bible been in possession of it simply through memory, and further used it as the guide to judge the morality of her decision, and perhaps also persuasion? I think the above quoted statement would be wrong. Further, a working knowledge of the constitution isnít a prerequisite to jury duty, or for that matter desirable. I was dismissed from a jury by the judge for admitting I thought the law allegedly broken unjust and incongruous with my interpretation of the constitution. Iím curious where your moral foundation is fixed and why you think it should have more authority in a jury room than some bible thumperís.

    Well, what is real happening is the system has no idea what its doing or where its going. that is why we have so many in prison, are system is not about rules its about the judge.

    pigwiggle - that is an excellent post. I'm eagerly awaiting the response.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#4)
    by Fr33d0m on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 06:09:04 PM EST
    I had problems when I first read this and I think it may be due to the wording. Here are what I think the facts are: 1 As a whole, or at least a group of the jury consulted the bible. 2. The jury was wrong to consult anything but the law. This would be different than a single jurist having a bible. and indicates they specifically made a point of consulting the bible as a group. Of course as I indicated earlier, I am trying to interpret what I read.

    Pigwiggle, Jurors of course bring their own common sense and experience to bear. Technically, the decision should be based on the evidence presented in the context of the law as provided by the judge's instructions to the jury. Most jurors try very hard to perform that difficult task, made even more difficult by a capital case. Some may rely on their religion to vote one way or another. Some are simply nasty vindictive people and will jump at the chance to condemn. However, expressly consulting a religous text (NOT part of the evidence or the judge's instructions) for guidance violates the defendant's right to a fair trial. Change the facts--suppose the trial is for child abuse. Dad is accused of beating his son resulting in a broken arm. There is no dispute that the beating was child abuse and the only question is whether Dad did it. A juror CANNOT vote to acquit because he/she believes in the strict interpretaion of "spare the rod and spoil the child" The juror can acquit only if he finds the evidence does not prove Dad did it. Society, through the legislature has already decided an adult cannot intentionally cause that kind of damage to a child. Neither you nor I gets to override that decision because we follow a particular interpretation or the Bible.

    In partial response to pigwiggle, the point of the ruling is actually very narrow, and is that the jury is only supposed to consider evidence that was admitted at trial. As TalkLeft said, "Jurors are not allowed to consider outside material that has not been admitted into evidence, let alone use such material to convince other jurors to convict." So a statement like "This decision shows that the Consitution, not the Bible, rules in criminal court" can be interpreted to mean that the rules of the court were followed, and that is generally a good thing. This case has nothing to do with a juror using their own personal religious beliefs to determine a verdict or sentence. That is certainly still allowed, in the most obvious example of jury nullification, where a jury can decide to not follow the jury instructions, and can decide to not convict someone even if the facts and law are such that the defendant should be convicted. (There's a lot more to be said about jury nullification, and what I just wrote isn't a great description. Oh well.) It's important to not read too much into the Colorado SC's ruling, and don't rely too heavily on the major news outlets to report this ruling accurately. It should be considered a very narrow ruling, similar to when one of the Scott Peterson jurors was removed from the jury when s/he went online to find out more information about the case. It's against the rules of the court, and it doesn't matter if your independent source is the Internet or the Bible, if it wasn't evidence admitted at trial, it's not allowed.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#7)
    by pigwiggle on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 06:33:50 PM EST
    ďA juror CANNOT vote to acquit because he/she believes in the strict interpretaion of "spare the rod and spoil the child" The juror can acquit only if he finds the evidence does not prove Dad did it.Ē Well then, this is the crux of my argument; I believe a juror can judge the law itself.

    In spite of a person's religious beliefs, only the law should prevail in trials. Imagine what a Pandora's box would be opened otherwise: Adulterers might get the death penalty (stoning is prescribed in Leviticus). Self-defense might be considered wrong (turn the other cheek). A person who self-mutilates could be excused for mutilating a neighbor (treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself). The Bible is sometimes contradictory, depending on whether one looks at the New or the Old Testament. It is also unreliable, as various translations can sometimes be found to have different meanings for the same passage. And what about the poor shmo who is an atheist, or of a minority religion? Can he demand a new trial based on the fact that none of his peers (i.e, people of his religious flavor) were not on the jury?

    "Can he demand a new trial based on the fact that none of his peers (i.e, people of his religious flavor) were not on the jury?" Sorry, the double negative slipped by me. I meant to say "were on the jury."

    eb - Of course they can. Jury nullifaction, as a shield against unjust laws and prosecution, has existed for ages. Just ask OJ.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#11)
    by Sailor on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 07:15:12 PM EST
    The ruling was 'that juries cannot turn to the Bible for advice during deliberations'. They can each turn to their bible for comfort or guidance, but it was not entered into evidence or testimony so as a group they cannot consider it. No problem with the jury judging the facts AND the law, no problem with freedom of/from religion. Good ruling, but boy will it be spun wrong.

    pigwiggle, don't be a pignitwit, the jury cannot "judge the law" they can only decide if the law was indeed broken. Much as you would like to twist this to meet your twisted sense of justice, it is a fact sure as the fact that a the constitution does not mention God.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#13)
    by cp on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 08:56:12 PM EST
    i was actually struck by the particular verse cited, as justification for a death sentence. "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is not an instruction, but a warning. it is an admonition against revenge, not support for it. simply put, revenge begets revenge, causing societal unrest and disruption. this would clearly be against god's will, hence the warning. if you're going to use the bible to justify something, you should at least have half a clue what the hell you're talking about. it's obvious this bunch didn't. aside from the obvious violation of jury rules, that only evidence admitted at trial be considered, these bozos couldn't even get their bibilical interpretations correct.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#14)
    by Johnny on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 09:03:52 PM EST
    " these bozos couldn't even get their bibilical interpretations correct." Actually, that is exactly what is wrong with most bible-wavers. Interpretation amounts to opinion, and in a book which has been translated many different ways to suit many different agendas.. Of course our law books are the exact same, laws change to suit an agenda. But jurors should look to the codified law books for inspiration on punishment, not some 3000 year old text.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#15)
    by Dadler on Mon Mar 28, 2005 at 09:13:58 PM EST
    good ruling, obviously. it was like a little bible study deliberation there, it seems. like another poster above said, it's fine for an individual juror to read, think about, use, whatever personal religious document for "guidance", but they cannot do so in a group, as if those verses were part of the law they were tasked to interpret. fight the power, j.

    Keep in mind that jury nullification was also used for the same purposes in the North, & West & everyplace else. It wasn't just the South - we weren't the sole spot of racism int he country. We just got the publicity for it. Also jury nullification was used to lessen the impact of prohibition. & in different places over different times various other laws that conflicted with either a constitutionally enumerated Right or a societal norm were nullified by a jury. Matter of fact there's a SCOTUs case where jury nullification is mentioned as part of the Right reserved to the people. Now it's much better when jury nullification isn't necessary, but sadly it is one of the last checks we have left on illiterate lawmakers. All that being said I'd dispute that a bible was used as "evidence" in this case. A reference yes, but no moreso than if someone had quoted out of a Heinlein novel to explain why he/she was voting for the toughest penalty or even to convince others to vote with them. & PW - lawyers & especially judges typically hate it when a juror or potential juror opines that they're capable of interpreting the law &/or constitution for themselves. It's not that you were wrong to bring it up - it's just unwise to do so if you want to serve on a jury. A working knowledge of the constitution should be a pre-requisite for jury duty - but then again it should be a pre-requisite for holding nay public office & as you might have guessed it seems to be even more f a disqualifying factor there than in jury duty.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#18)
    by Jlvngstn on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 06:25:02 AM EST
    Where is BigTex? I would venture to say he would have a very compelling argument on this one. I miss bigtex.......

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#19)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 06:28:36 AM EST
    In the end, a juror must answer to his conscience. I had a similar experience during grand jury duty. I warned the head DA prior to being sworn in that my conscience would not allow me to vote true bill for any drug possesion, prostitution, or gambling cases. He didn't seem to care and I was sworn in, and I voted no true bill on lots of non-violent cases. Not that it mattered, I was always out voted by my peers, except for one case when I convinced my fellow jurors to no true bill a possesion of a hypodermic needle charge. A man must answer to his conscience first, the law second.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#20)
    by Sailor on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 06:48:19 AM EST
    pigwiggle, don't be a pignitwit, the jury cannot "judge the law" they can only decide if the law was indeed broken.
    I don't know about the law in CO or where you live but where I live the state constitution says that "In all criminal cases whatever, the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the facts."
    A reference yes, but no moreso than if someone had quoted out of a Heinlein novel
    They wouldn't be allowed to use a heinlein novel either if it had not been admitted into evidence.

    This is obviously not the point of this post, but I HATE when christians site that "eye for an eye" business. A few years ago I sat down to read the new testament (I had just taken a class on the history of the writing of the bible at my UU church and decided it might be interesting to read it for myself) and was shocked when I came upon the passage (verse? whatever) where Jesus specifically says we are not going to do the old eye-for-an-eye thing anymore. From now on we are following a new rule, turn the other cheek. From my understanding, anything that jesus says that contradicts the old testament, if you are a christian, you go with what jesus says. And yet I have heard many, many christians site eye-for-an-eye (particularly in support of the death penalty). Do they even know what is in their own bible? (the other big bible shocker for me was that part about never praying in public. What religion are "christians" practicing?).

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#22)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 07:35:27 AM EST
    JB...Most Christians can't interpret the bible on their own, they just swallow what their "master" (pastor, pope, minister, guy with funny hat, what have you)tells them it means. Same for the jews and the muslims.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#24)
    by kdog on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 11:20:47 AM EST
    Will mankind ever rid itself of the scourge that is religion? What also ails the religous is a fear of death. The various religions are all selling some form of eternal life, and who wouldn't want that? So they swallow their respective religion's "morality", and of course give money to their "church/mosque/temple", and all for a promise that their "church/mosque/temple" can't possibly keep.

    Sailor, Deciding the law as relate is likely not the same thing as judging the law. If jury's could judge the law in these cases then consider the havok that we libruls could wreck.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#26)
    by Fr33d0m on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 12:48:20 PM EST
    Argh... that last sorry post aimed at Sailor was mine. It should say: Deciding the law as you relate from CO law is not the same thing as judging the law. If jury's could judge the law in these cases then consider the havok that we libruls could wreck. Sorry for the inexcuseable sloppiness, it is lunch time after all.

    PW, you were right IMHO when you said:
    Well then, this is the crux of my argument; I believe a juror can judge the law itself.
    (however, you will never get on a jury spouting off about, of all things, the constitution and all). A juror can judge the law for him or herself. I remember an interesting story from West Virginia where in a particular county that was poverty-stricken but for a "budding" haha marijuana growing business, could not find a jury to convict one of their "peers" for MJ possession. (Of course, a black guy passing through caught with a few hits of crack in their pocket might not fare so well in said county!). It seems like a murky point, but there's a difference between not believing in the conviction of this particular individual for this particular offense on personal morality grounds. PW, if you can find 11 other libertarians in your neighborhood to be on the same jury as you, you folks would wield a lot of power. HOWEVER, there is an underlying assumption that you, as an American citizen, respect and uphold the rule of law (whether you like it, or the bible says it's so, or whatever). If, in a jury room, the bible is held up as a reference within which to interpret American law, or as a "higher authority", with all of the accompanying pressures and referred to by the group, or quoted from as part of the deliberation process, then you've betrayed the rule of law in the most fundamental sense. Re: reading the bible, FYI, Catholics aren't allowed to read the bible. We are mere humans and aren't able to interpret God's word. We are to rely on Jesus' representative, the Pope to interpret for us and our local priest to support and disseminate. That's what all that Vatican Council stuff is about and "Catholics awaiting word on the Pope's ruling is about". LOL, of course American Christian Fundamentalism proves their point in spades..

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#28)
    by Sailor on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 12:59:13 PM EST
    Fr33d0m - The state constitution I quoted was not CO's, but it means exactly what it says; the jury decides the facts and the law in criminal trials. If they judge the law to be unfair they acquit. standard disclaimer, INAL but that's what I have been told by family member lawyers. If any lawyers out there care to weigh in on the accuracy I'm all ears ... eyes?

    As a Christian, I too am wary of a brother or sister who cites the "eye-for-an-eye" admonition from Genesis as God's support for the death penalty. That admonition came because, in familial conflicts of the day, a person who killed another person might find his entire family wiped out in an act of revenge. An eye for an eye doesn't mean that you're entitled to revenge, it simply means that that's all you're entitled to. And we all know that in America, all eyes are not equal. Also of note--although the Bible also calls for death for other crimes besides murder (see Leviticus) you never see the right crusading for death sentences for those offenses. No Christian yet has been able to tell me, to my satisfaction, why that is.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#30)
    by Fr33d0m on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 01:24:13 PM EST
    I2ANAL and so will also bow to the more seasoned legal professionals word on this. But I would like to add: If jurys could judge the law, imagine what would happen in cases involving MJ possession (presuming they go to a jury in those cases) A fair amount of folks do not believe that law is fair. It seems easy to presume that the law would be judged unfair by a jury in such a case. Also consider what might happen if a jury judged a law unfair. Is it only unfair in the instance of the case they were judging? Is it instead overturned or returned to be rewritten? Also the concept of judging whether a law is "fair" seems a bit of a stretch to me. IMHO deciding the law in the case of whatever state law you are talking about must be intending that jurys would decide if the law was indeed broken and if the facts presented in the case prove the defendant is guilty.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#31)
    by Sailor on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 01:35:36 PM EST
    One other pecuiarity in my state; An attorney or judge can't tell the jury they get to decide the law.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#32)
    by Fr33d0m on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 05:59:06 PM EST
    Guess all the lawyers are still at work. Sailor, What state are you referring to? I wish to do some research on this.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#33)
    by Fr33d0m on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 06:04:06 PM EST
    Ok, I've taken more time to look into this and have to agree that jurys can "decide the law"

    It used to be that the government would ask a preacher to read the Bible and preach a Sermon at the execution. Now they throw out the Bible and throw out history. Now they can make up any laws they want and YOU can't stop them. Next thing you know -- they will come after you and make up any law they want to starve YOU to death .... see The Execution of Caleb Adams"

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#35)
    by Fr33d0m on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 06:52:31 PM EST
    To add more to the "jurys decide the law" debate, you can review this case. Yes it is a federal case and applys presumably to federal cases (again if a lawyer would like to "chime in" it would be great).

    Claxton: Considering the high number of people who commit adultery and still consider themselves good Christians, they would be hard-pressed to support the punishment in Leviticus for adultery, which is death by stoning. So they become selective in what they want punished.

    Next we must strip all jurors of all currency because reading "In God We Trust" on a quarter certainly strips a defendant of all of his Constitutional protections. "Your Honor, we'd like to appeal this case, because we believe this juror really did look at what was written on one of his quarters before he paid the gentleman he bought the coffee from"

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#38)
    by Johnny on Tue Mar 29, 2005 at 08:51:49 PM EST
    Demoypocrates, that is absurd. Now, if the jury in question had looked at a quarter for inspiration for punishment proceedings, well... But no. They were consulting something that A: was not introduced as evidence and B: promotes a version of religion that is not officialy endorsed by the government. This is where the separation of church and state really starts to show it's necessity. If you accept one punishment from the bible, as good christians, one should also accept the other punishments. Including killing your unfaithful spouse, stoning in public your unruly child, enslaving your neighbors for not accepting the one true way... That last one scares me very much.

    The Colorado court's decision signals a cosmic shift in the way the American judicial system works. There used to be a time that moral judgments were to be made by the people. These judgments were articulated via legislation by elected legislatures. In Colorado, as in most states, moral judgments in criminal cases are explicitly left to the people in the form of the jury. Now, however, the roles have been reversed. Judges have become the ultimate moral arbiters, while the people are barred from making collective moral decisions. While the Colorado Supreme Court rips jurors for using the Bible as a source for morality, judges have no qualms about looking to "extraneous texts" to impose their morality on the rest of us: Just view the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Roper v. Simmons, where the majority cited "evolving standards of decency," and then proceeded to justify its own standard of decency by referring to international law. Or how about Lawrence v. Texas, where the majority decided that the Constitution guarantees a right to sodomy based on blasts of hot air from Justice Kennedy: "The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime"? One might sat that the Colorado Supreme Court is right -- the Bible is authoritative. But it's certainly a better authority than the subjectivism espoused by our judges.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#40)
    by glanton on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 07:57:20 AM EST
    Hey look everybody, the anonymous poster just cut and pasted (without citing) that little snot Ben Shapiro's current collum from Townhall. What a shock. Nutbag is as nutbag does. Part of why I read that crap in the first place is to 'know mine enemy,' since the wingnuts get their talking points directly from it, so this is a sort of vindication for having absorbed oogles of drivel. "Know thine enemy." Yeah, I really like that one. Today it mans, "listen to a.m. radio, watch Fox, read Townhall."

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#42)
    by glanton on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 01:29:06 PM EST
    DA: Why, I'd say ole cut-n-paste wouldn't like that too much, would he/she/it? But then these thumpers don't think that way.

    Re: Death Sentence Reversed for Bible Reading Juro (none / 0) (#44)
    by glanton on Wed Mar 30, 2005 at 03:13:39 PM EST
    Y'all: The cut-and-paste incident was not abnormal. "Talking Points" are the new conservative religion. All these neocons gave up thinking for themselves before they ever started. Now they go to some blog, or Townhall, or listen to Rush or tune in to Fox to find out what they think about whatever issue is on the table. Then they scream the words with every ounce on conviction they can muster. Sometimes--epseically whenever the discussion relates to Roe or, as per this thread, the Superiority Of The Holy Bible To All, Including The constitution of the united states-- they do more than scream. They drool and spittle their Talking Points.