Monday, March 28, 2005

Highly ambivalent about this decision.

The Colorado Supreme Court has thrown out a convicted rapist/murderer's death sentence because jurors consulted their Bibles during the penalty phase deliberations.

Someone smarter than me (or who works in, say, a library and can look it up):

What are the guidelines a jury gets for determining whether a guy gets the death penalty? Are they very strict and set in the law, or is it more a judgement call by the jury as to whether a crime is so heinous as to require execution?

And, by the way, do you agree with the court's decision?


Joe said...

This ought to be easier to find, given that in 2002, Colorado's law which left the death penalty decision to a 3-judge panel was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, putting the decision back in the jury's hands where it belongs.

I can't find any indications that there are default guidelines in Colorado that every jury hears. From the academic version of LexisNexis I have access to, it appears that there are about a million areas where the court may show discretion in how it instructs any given jury, based on the evidence and the charge. So, while a judge might disagree, they do not appear to be what you and I would consider "very strict."

But then, I am not a lawyer and could easily have missed something. For additional library support, please deposit chocolate.

As for me? This is not about the death penalty, it's about the jury process. In all cases, the rules appear to be that jurors are supposed to deliberate out loud and in their heads. They are not investigators or researchers and what little I know says they're not supposed to go digging up information or context not presented in court. That is what these people did (as reported by the AP), so you gotta set aside their decision. So yes, I agree with the court.

In some ways, I think this is a bogus rule, but then I find it hard to come up with any fair way to allow independant research by a jury without radical, fundamental change to the American version of trial by jury.

Shannin said...

I have never sat on a jury where I was deciding on life in prision vs. death, but if I ever do, I know I will have to take a long, hard look at my own belief system. For those that are religious, I think it's only natural that they turn to the Bible. It still doesn't change the fact that the guy was guilty. It's not like they flipped a coin.

pankleb said...

Joe's right:
It's all about outside sources. I have been involved in the jury deliberation process many times. No outside sources: no cell phones, no dictionaries, no laptops, no Bibles. Anything entered into evidence is fair game. So, if an attorney enters the Bible into evidence, the jury can look at the Bible (but only the version entered into evidence). If the defendant says he was at Fenway watching Mussina v. Pedro the night of the crime, the jurors can't check a newspaper or website to confirm those two pitchers were starting that night, even if the prosecutor has failed to get contradictory news accounts admitted into evidence.
That said, Shannin's also right: you take your beliefs and who you are into the jury room, including your internal lie detector and your opinion on whether God exists, the death penalty, etc. The jury selection process is designed to weed out people with nutty and/or too unfavorable personal biases, but that doesn't mean you leave your biases at the door of the jury room.