The federal appeals court in San Francisco yesterday upheld a death sentence from a jury that had consulted the Bible’s teachings on capital punishment.
In a second decision on the role of religion in the criminal justice system, the same court ruled Friday that requiring a former prisoner on parole to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous violated the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.
In the capital case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit split 9 to 6 on the question of whether notes including Bible verses prepared by the jury’s foreman and used during sentencing deliberations required reversal of the death sentence imposed on Stevie L. Fields in 1979.
Mr. Fields, on parole after serving time for manslaughter, committed a series of rapes, kidnappings and robberies, and murdered Rosemary Cobbs, a student librarian at the University of Southern California.
After the jury convicted Mr. Fields and while it was deliberating his sentence, the foreman, Rodney White, conducted outside research, consulting several reference works and preparing a list of pros and cons on the death penalty that he shared with fellow jurors. On the pro side, he quoted passages from the Bible, including this one from Exodus: “He that smiteth a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death.”
Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, writing for the majority, said there was no need to decide whether there had been juror misconduct, “because even assuming there was, we are persuaded that White’s notes had no substantial and injurious effect or influence.”
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Posted September 11, 2007 at 12:46 pm
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