Death Penalty

Juror’s Bible Notes Don’t Invalidate Sentence

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An en banc federal appeals court has upheld a jury’s decision to impose a death sentence after the foreman brought notes citing scripture into deliberations.

Stevie Lamar Fields was convicted of the 1978 rape and murder of a college librarian while on parole for manslaughter. The jury foreman had made notes “for” and “against” the death penalty and shared them with jurors. In support of capital punishment, he listed Biblical passages, writing “eye for eye” and, “He that smiteth a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death.”

Ruling 9-6, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said yesterday the notes “had no substantial and injurious effect or influence,” the Los Angeles Times reports. The majority opinion (PDF) by Judge Pamela Ann Rymer said it was clearly permissible for the foreman to cite the verses from memory and it is difficult to see how sharing notes makes a constitutional difference.

The New York Times’ coverage of the ruling refers to a second case involving religion decided by the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit on Friday. The court held that the estate of a drug addict could sue a parole officer for requiring him to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Ricky K. Inouye, a Buddhist, had refused to go to the meetings and had to return to prison partly as a result of his decision.

The 9th Circuit panel opinion (PDF) said the state violated Inyoue’s First Amendment rights by compelling him to attend the meetings, in which participants acknowledge a “higher power.”

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