Bible Ban


Yesterday the Colorado Supreme Court overturned a death sentence for a man convicted of kidnapping, rape, and murder because the jurors consulted the Bible while deliberating over the penalty. Although the jurors were urged, per state law, to make an "individual moral assessment," the Supreme Court concluded the Bible was an inappropriate outside influence. It's hard to see how thumbing through the Bible would make an otherwise just result improper. Unless there is evidence of corruption or bad faith, respect for jurors' independence should preclude an inquiry into the source of the moral values they bring to bear in making their decisions. (Surely biblical wisdom often plays a role–acknowledged or not, read from the text or recalled from memory–in death penalty deliberations.)

As The New York Times notes in its story on the ruling, consulting the Bible does not necessarily favor the prosecution. The defense in this case urged the jurors to show mercy "as God ultimately took mercy on Abraham." Although the point is valid, I'm hazy on the specific reference. Abraham himself is known for his merciful instincts (as when he urges God to spare the city of Sodom), but I don't recall that he ever murdered anyone, or even committed a sin so grave that forgiving him for it could be considered a model of mercy (unless passing his wife off as his sister counts). Wouldn't "as God ultimately took mercy on Cain" have made more sense?

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  1. Wait a minute. The DEFENSE references the Bible in a plea for mercy. The jury checks his facts, is unimpressed, and votes to fry. This is grounds for overturning the penalty?

  2. As a test of faithfulness, God told Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac into the wilderness and kill him. Abraham was ready to do it, and then God said “enough”. Abraham had satisfied God of his faithfulness to Him, and God showed mercy to Abraham and Isaac by sparing Isaac’s life.

  3. It looks like someone cited the Sermon on the Mount as it regards an eye for an eye.

    …Now if we can only get them to look at the one about “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars’s…”

  4. If, during the penalty phase, juries are generally allowed to reference materials external to the to the law (as set forth by the judge in his instructions) and the evidence admitted , then the Bible should be allowed. If not, then not.

    Next case.

  5. DNT, why not quote the relevant text faithfully?

    Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
    Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
    God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
    God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
    The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
    Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
    God says, “Out on Highway 61.”

  6. So the Bible turns out to be part of the Culture of Death?

  7. Ball of Confusion – Yes.

  8. B of C:

    Uh, you just noticed? Have you been on a feeding tube for the past 2000 years?

    (Note: Although it may appear otherwise, the sarcasm above is not really directed at you).

  9. What a total pantload. This reinforces my cynicism that the “justice system” wants nothing more then vapid, manipulative douchebags in juries who won’t think or believe in anything other then what they are told.

    And the Bible would make an excellent tie-breaker in jury rooms. Just flip the damned thing:
    Old Testament side = vengeful death
    New Tesament side = compassionate mercy

  10. “manipulative-prone” or “impressionable”.. oops..

  11. For the kind of theocracy to put a smile on Dubya’s face, we need a source document other than the Bible… too many contradictions.
    I’m thinking maybe 5 commandments, tops, with zero elaboration and commentary. And I don’t mean just half of the famous 10 Commandments.

  12. I like it, Ruthless.

    1. “Freedom” means whatever I say it means.
    2. If you don’t like anything I stand for, you hate Freedom.
    3. ?

  13. So, does this mean that the punishment for adultery won’t be stoning at the city gates by the elders??

  14. Oops, I forgot to work the Almighty in there. Obviously I’m new at this.
    0. God = Freedom?

    Regarding the decision, the dissenting judges seem to have nailed it pretty squarely. Although obviously they’re really just being pro-Death…

  15. Seriously, BoC,
    I’d like to see this (although my utopia would not be a theocracy):
    1. Family means whatever its members say it means.
    2. Family is the most sovereign of governments.
    3. ?

  16. 4. Profit!

  17. 3. No person shall be considered a “member” of a family without his express, written consent, freely given without coercion.

  18. cdunlea,
    Correct. The new penalty for adultery shall be that you must step down as Chairman and CEO of Boeing.

  19. Seems perfectly fair to me — they prohibit newspapers, books, and pretty much everything else not integral to the case.

    I’d like to read the actual ruling — and the specific circumstances — before making a final judgement.

    It’s been my experience that too much of this “They’re BANNING THE BIBLE” shit turns out to be nonsense in the end.

  20. so is the penalty in this case a technicality, in that outside material was taken in?

    the article doesn’t really clear that up. it seems like a very silly decision either way.

  21. Morat –
    I’m just arguing for the sake of it, but if you are instructing the jury to make a moral judgment, doesn’t that make the Bible “integral to the case”, if that’s what any of the jurors choose to refer to for moral guidance?

  22. The Patriarch of the Jews, Christians and Moslems was all set to kill his son based on hearing a voice in his head. This is just the kind of thing that gets you thrown in the loony bin in any sane society.

  23. “so is the penalty in this case a technicality, in that outside material was taken in?”

    Correct. In most jurisdictions, the jury is only allowed their own notes, a copy of the jury instructions, and whatever knowledge they walked into the courtroom with. And they’re not supposed to do “independent investigation” of the case on their time off. So you’re perfectly free to recall as much of the Bible as you like – if you can put the whole thing into your notes from memory, more power to you – but you can’t bring in a printed copy. Same thing with law books, the newspaper, or a copy of “Spider-Man vs. Predator.”

    Make sense? It doesn’t have to. It’s the law.

    What irks me is the straws some appellate courts grasp at to overturn criminal convictions. There is such a thing as an immaterial violation of civil procedure, and the court would have been fully within its rights to say “We can’t see how the jurors’ reference to the Bible unfairly influenced the case; conviction sustained.” I haven’t read the judge’s decision, though, so it is always possible there are aspects to this we’re not hearing about.

  24. Ultimately, the Bible does inform many, many people’s decisions. That’s fact, and I don’t see how reading the physical book is any different from internally referring to your own memories of it. And the phrase “reference materials external to the law” is somewhat misleading. Would there be any trouble if a secular work of philosophy was referred to?

    Now would agree that external reference material shouldn’t be a deciding factor, but what are you going to do, tell the jury to make an informed decision while disregarding everything that informs them?

    And for an excellent philosophical discussion of the Issac story and faith in general, everyone should read Fear and Trembling by Kierkegaard. Besides, I find existentialism far more palatable as a philosophy than the post-modernism that’s so in vogue nowadays.

  25. doesn’t that make the Bible “integral to the case”, if that’s what any of the jurors choose to refer to for moral guidance?

    If the jurors had been neo-Nazis, should they be allowed to use “Mein Kampf” as a moral guide?

  26. I’m pretty much with Henry. The measure of this (in a strict sense) should be whether or not other outside texts are allowed in the same context. The Bible should neither be favored nor disfavored. If it is either, something is very wrong. If it is neither, time for us to bug out.

  27. If the jurors had been Nazis, they would implicitly refer to Mein Kampf no matter what.

    I’ll go ahead and agree that material that doesn’t directly pertain to the case shouldn’t be allowed in deliberation, but ultimately the actual physical representation is irrelevant (now what was I saying about not finding pomo palatable?). It’s one of the factors with a trial by peers system. You can instruct them as best you can, but ultimately they will be themselves, and make decisions on their own terms.

  28. I trust I don’t need to mention that if one of the jurors cracked open their little pocket copy of the Constitution, the case would likely have met the same fate.

  29. I perused the opinion — the issue wasn’t the Bible per se but that two jurors brought their own written “Bible notes,” which is a clear violation of the instruction that no outside materials are to be brought into the deliberations. I doubt that, had they been able to recite the passages verbatim, that there would have been an issue.

  30. The convicted in this case gets a lucky break…the bible is the cause of his being moved from an isolation cell on death row to general population, where he’ll get to be somebody’s bitch…sodomy gay-more-ya’!

  31. By the way, wouldn’t a link to the decision itself be more educational than a link to a news story about the decision? I mean, busy readers won’t have time to read the full decision, but (a) not all H&R readers are busy, and (b) if you’re busy, just read the post and skip the link.

  32. The Bible in this instance is “extraneous prejudicial information” in this instance, and clearly violates the rules of evidence. If the jurors want to discuss the Bible, etc., they can; they simply can’t bring it into the juryroom. So its not an issue of the jury’s internal deliberations but the introduction of material that played no part in the trial, etc. In other words, a trial is a closed universe as far as evidence, etc. is concerned; jurors may bring their individual knowledge to judging a case, but they can’t bring in outside material in doing so.

  33. I’ve served on one jury, was an alternate in another and was once sued after an automobile accident.

    You are not allowed to consult any extraneous materials. Yes, a book of philosophy would be forbidden, in fact, quite frankly, a book of philosophy was forbidden.

    As it should be.


    Reynolds Jones
    Schenectady, NY

  34. “If the jurors had been neo-Nazis, should they be allowed to use “Mein Kampf” as a moral guide?”

    Sure, but they shouldn’t have been allowed to bring the book into the jury room.

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