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News Jury conferring with the Bible

  1. Mar 29, 2005 #1
    Here in the US, a man got his death sentence commuted to life because the jury had conferred with the Bible. Is this no different than if they had shared an article in Playboy magazine on the death penalty?
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 30, 2005 #2
    I don't suppose so, since you don't put your hand on Playboy and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you Hugh Heffner.

    Face it, America's a country with lots of religious fundamentalists in the population and government, and they sure do like their bible. I believe I saw a poll not too long ago showing that just under half of the American population believed in the book of Genesis of creationism verbatim, totally disregarding the "theory" of evolution. In a system where we entrust judgements of life and death to a jury of a man's peers, and his peers are deeply religious, how can they be expected to act besides in a deeply religious manner? That's democracy afterall...
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2005
  4. Mar 30, 2005 #3

    SOS2008

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    Perhaps to be tried by one's peers would mean the jury should reference what the person on trial believes in?

    In relation to, and before this question was posed, I was wondering about swearing on the Bible in court and the swearing in of presidents etc. with regard to separation of church and state. For many people who do not believe in the Bible, or do not believe the Bible to be literal, what good is it to swear on this book? The confusion with ethics, morals, values, social mores, and religious beliefs is interesting.

    I would prefer a jury with ethics, logic, and reasoning over interpretation of the Bible if I were on trial.
     
  5. Mar 30, 2005 #4
    A jury of pedophiles judging other pedophiles? A jury of all muslims for muslim criminals? Who would decide if someone is your peer or not? Would you get to decide your jury? Would the court's judge get to hand-pick the jury based on whom he thought were your peers?

    Well, again, America's quite a Christian nation, as is clearly evident to you. This is what happens in a real Democracy, the will of the peopole dictates the actions of the government...

    That's unfortunate, because you live in a Democracy, not a society of ethics, logic and reason, but a society of popular sovereignty. In America, everyone's considered your peer as far as jury selection goes - hell, Karl Rove couldn't make an appointment on one of those CNN shows today cause HE had jury duty. Talk about egalitarian...
     
  6. Mar 30, 2005 #5

    SOS2008

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    Apparently you haven't followed recent trials (such as Michael Jackson's) and the process of jury selection.
     
  7. Mar 30, 2005 #6
    You're right, I haven't followed the Michael Jackson trial, or any celebrity trial for that matter, have they picked people with abusive fathers whom have had immense plastic surgery to be Michael Jackson's jurers?
     
  8. Mar 30, 2005 #7

    russ_watters

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    Using the Bible is customary and is the choice of the person being sworn in. If it has more meaning to a person, they can choose to be sworn in on a copy of Moby Dick.
     
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2005
  9. Mar 30, 2005 #8
    I agree, if only ppl were rational...
     
  10. Mar 30, 2005 #9

    russ_watters

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    Re: the OP -
    Actually, basing their decision on an article in Playboy (a relevant article) would be disallowed as well, but for a different reason: bias. That's why juries are sequestered.

    Basing a decision on a Bible passage would be both a bias issue and an establishment clause issue.
     
  11. Mar 30, 2005 #10
    Makes sense to me. Obiously you can't drag in an "expert" to argue for you in jury dilberation, so atoritative text should be out as well. This goes for the Bible or say Dr. Phill. Obviously, if none of the other jurors have respect for the opinion of Dr. Phill then it "is no, harm no foul"; but if they are swayed by another jurors atempt to exploit what might be considered "expert opinion" then the deliberation has been tainted.
     
  12. Mar 30, 2005 #11

    SOS2008

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    Good-un :rofl: I don't follow legal issues because of celebrities, and only pay just enough attention to learn interesting things like:
    I heard this somewhere or another, but never knew if it was true--interesting.
     
  13. Mar 30, 2005 #12

    kat

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    I'd like a few more details...Starting with who got his death sentence commute to life?




    I don't know about other states, but Maine no longer has you swear upon the bible..or to God.
     
  14. Mar 31, 2005 #13
  15. Mar 31, 2005 #14
    Well, they can't even bring in a copy of the dictionary without court order.


    In the US at least for the most party, all that is required is that the witness, before testifying declare that he/she will testify truthfully, by oath or affirmation so that the witness is impressed with the knowledge and importance of his/her duty to testify truthfully.

    So Bible is not required.
     
  16. Mar 31, 2005 #15
    I'm pretty much with wasteofo2 on this. It's just the way it goes.
    And I don't quite see what's wrong with them taking a look at the bible either. These religious individuals are set to make a life or death decision and wish spiritual/moral guidance in making that decision. Where's the problem?
    The other one I don't understand is how the ten comandments being displayed in a courtroom is a violation of church and state. If the judge were to ask you to say hail marys over it or kneel before it then I can see, but it just being there?
     
  17. Mar 31, 2005 #16
    Juries are ONLY to consider the evidence admitted at trial and the law as given in the jury instructions. Having a bible could be very prejudicial. Also it probably wasn't properly received into evidence. The court must first give jury instructions, which very likely wasn't given with respect to the bible. The jury must accept the court's legal definitions and receive clarifications only from the court and not from outside sources. The Bible was extraneous information and so it was improper for them to have used it. This is especially the case here when who knows without the bible he might not have received the death penalty. Futher this could be constitutionally improper since they might have been basing their death sentence on something other than evidence brought into court. It may have improperly influenced the jurors. That's more than enough to declare that conferring with a Bible by the jury is improper.

    As to the Ten Commandments--establishment clause.
     
  18. Mar 31, 2005 #17

    Moonbear

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    When I first heard this, that was my interpretation of the reasons as well. It shouldn't matter what they conferred, if it was any source outside of the evidence presented as part of the trial, it would have been inappropriate to use it to guide their decision.

    However, while in this case the Bible was physically brought in, how would it be handled had a group of the jurors had passages committed to memory and considered that in their deliberations without the book itself present?

    I also am left wondering (although it is only pondering not directly addressing the legalities of the case in the OP), how would it have been handled if instead of using Bible passages to decide on the death penalty, they had used the Bible to lessen the penalty to a life sentence?

    And the final question I have is did the jury really use the Bible to decide to give the death penalty, or had they already decided the death penalty was appropriate under the law and were consulting the Bible to assuage their own personal feelings that the death penalty conflicted with their religious views? I think it's pretty common that people look to find what they want to find in the Bible; there's always a passage in there somewhere to justify just about anything if you read it completely out of context.
     
  19. Mar 31, 2005 #18

    russ_watters

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    It depends a little on the context. The most obvious case is this: http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/08/27/ten.commandments/

    The Alabama supreme court chief justice put a 5,000 lb granite monument of the 10 Commandments in the rotunda of the courthouse. I don't think any public funding was involved, but the message it projects when the 10 Commandments dominate the Rotunda of a courthouse is: 'this is our law' - and it isn't (it might be based partly on it, but that's not it). The implication is that anyone who goes into that court will be judged according to the Ten Commandments and not the laws of the US. Now, that's only an implication, but in reality, Judge Moore really did conduct court that way. He asked people their religions and admonished them for not being Christian. He stated explicitly that he was bound by the Bible above the Constitution. And he'd have to be thinking that way to do what he did, since it was obvious that what he was doing was a violation of the Constitution - he knew it and did it anyway.

    Its ironic to me that he lost his job for the symbol of judicial misconduct and not for his actual misconduct (though his actual misconduct was also cited). But even without the added misconduct, putting the Ten Commandments in the rotunda was a violation itself.
     
  20. Mar 31, 2005 #19
    That's pretty funny, since I actually don't agree with anything you said there.

    I believe that using the bible in a court case to make any judgements is hugely wrong, and that displaying things that say YOU SHALL HAVE NO OTHER GOD BEFORE ME, in a courthouse clearly DOES violate the establishment clause. My point wasn't that it's great and should be allowed, but simply that you can't expect anything else from a religiously fundamental society in which random groups of citizens are called on to make life and death decisions. If you have a society filled with religious zealots, and you call random people for jury duty, you can be sure you'll get some zealots, and you can be sure they'll act based on their religion primarily.

    Please excuse the horrible writing found above, I'm on some funky-ass allergy medicine and I'm pretty out of it.
     
  21. Mar 31, 2005 #20
    Certainly the jurors are expected to rely on their common sense, general knowledge, observations, experiences, morals, etc. So they can use their own personal beliefs, but the problem is that they simply cannot use text that are not introduced at trial. That's why the courts have a system called voir dire. So that the court to ask them about religious beliefs that may interfere with jurors following court instructions. Using your own personal beliefs to decide a case is different from using the Bible to persuade or coerce someone else into voting your way is another matter. It really depends on how it was used. It also depends on what each state requires in terms of weighing certain factors in death penalty cases. I think its an issue is whether something is being used that overrides the law.
     
  22. Mar 31, 2005 #21
    First... I believe that it was said they changed from a death penalty to life instead due to their confering with the bible, unless I am mistaken or the author of this thread is mistaken.
    Secondly... I don't really see how reading something that has nothing to do with the trial in and of itself should be considered to "taint" their decision in some fashion. I don't see what it has to do with interpretation of US and state law either.
    Moonbear also has a good point. All of those people brought their religious beliefs in through those doors with them and it didn't really matter if they had a bible because they could still just as easily be making their decisions based on their own interpretation of the bible from memory.
    It may be against the letter of the law, but I still don't really see the harm unless these people are a bunch of wackos that are solely judging based off of the bible and paying no attention to the law and case itself. It's a pretty hot issue whether or not the death penalty is an ethical practice and I don't think I can look down upon a person for feeling they need some moral or ethical guidance in making such a dicision.
    I didn't say that it was great actually. I said I agree that it's just the way it goes. Which I believe is more or less what you said. I then added more of my opinion and said nothing of using the bible to make court decisions but rather that I don't see what's wrong with a person confering for moral and ethical support when deciding whether or not to put a man to death.
    Perhaps you don't agree but I think there's a vast differance there.
    And I'd like to add that I am not Christian nor would I personally look to the bible for moral guidance, I am just sympathetic to other people's feelings, flaws, shortcomings, or what ever you would like to call them.
     
  23. Mar 31, 2005 #22
    Yes this is the case I was thinking of. I was unaware of his misconduct in running the courtroom though. At the time I had not agreed that it was a violation of the establishment clause but I did agree that he should be terminated for his failure to cooperate with a court order stating that the monument was to be removed.
     
  24. Mar 31, 2005 #23
    First, I already stated why bringing in the bible may do harm to a court case. You ask what is the harm? Well someone might be given the death penalty instead of life. Someone who judges a case based on "an eye for an eye" and perhaps convinces others via bible passages to vote that way too may do irreparable damage. Second you don't see the taint, but a case should be decided based on the law. However, that doesn't mean personal beliefs should not be considered; no one said that a person can't bring their beliefs to bear because that would be impossible, but the difference is bringing in extraneous text. It might seem harmless you to, but do you really know that for sure? This is a person's life at stake. When a juror decides a case based on an extraneous text; that certainly does affect how a case is handled. You don't think certain passages might conflict with the law? You don't think "whoever kills a man must be put to death" might be prejudicial into changing a sentence of life into one of death?

    How can you know whether someone bringing a bible into jury deliberations won't quote passage after passage and totally ignore the law entirely? Like I said before, that's why we have voir dire.
     
  25. Mar 31, 2005 #24

    Moonbear

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    Well, the judge and jury are supposed to be bound by the letter of the law. And the potential harm (whether it was what happened in this case or not, we have no way to know) is as you point out, that if the jury begins to judge based off the bible rather than according to the law and the case itself, it undermines our legal system and the right to a fair trial. I suspect this finding will give the person convincted a pretty good justfication for appeal.
     
  26. Mar 31, 2005 #25
    Exactly. Due to the screening process it is far less likely that such a person would make it through into the jury. Aswell if such a person were to somehow make it through I'd expect they would not be recieved well by the other jurors and likely be removed from the jury were the person to harangue them with bible verse.
    More than that jurors have the right to make decisions based on their personal beliefs and conscience. It's one of the main points of the trial by jury. But why does "extraneous text" pose a problem? Simply for the fact that it is a written document?
    Since we are going on hypotheticals here what if a priest was called to jury duty and his natural instinct kicks in while he's in deliberation and he begins to relate everything to verse and his religion? Is this then a violation of the seperation of church and state? Should he be removed from the jury because he is siting bible verse in deliberation? Is he somehow now less than an average citizen and unable to participate in a jury? Or does this only apply to the written word?


    At any rate... my real question here is mainly in regards to what latitude if any should be given to jurors who feel they need ethical or moral support for a decision regarding the death sentance? Or do you feel that they should not be allowed to participate in the jury if they would feel they need support in making such a decision?
     
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