The Bible as sentencing reference tool
March 28, 2005 4:25 PM   Subscribe

The Bible as sentencing device If the Constitution sanctions such direct reliance on religious sources when imposing criminal sentences, then there is nothing to stop prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers from regularly citing religious sources like the Bible, the Talmud, or the Koran to justify their respective positions on punishment.
posted by docpops (46 comments total)

 
good times, good times.

but seriously, people, get out of there.
posted by blacklite at 4:33 PM on March 28, 2005


To quote the article: The Colorado Supreme Court on Monday threw out the death penalty in a rape-and-murder case because jurors had studied Bible verses such as "eye for eye, tooth for tooth' during deliberations.

Sounds like the court tried to defend church-state separation. I can imagine the uproar had they ruled the other way ("OMG! Somebody said the G-word in a court!") so seems like a Good Thing.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:43 PM on March 28, 2005


What, exactly, are permissible sources for influence?

Philosphies?
Books?
History?
Music?

While I can agree that reading from the Bible or any other religious text is a questionable action in a government courtroom - I'm not sure how reasonable it is that someone would make a decision that is completely uninfluenced by any outside source.

Or is this more about delivery of scripture with sentencing?
posted by cinderful at 4:44 PM on March 28, 2005


Or is this more about delivery of scripture with sentencing?

Tough to know without more information. It sounds like the jury explicitly based their reasoning on biblical ideals (not just as a shared cultural background). It's unclear if that was upon the suggestion of counsel or not.

Either way, it seems a bit awkward to have a jury asking themselves "what would the Bible say?" when we have the law.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:51 PM on March 28, 2005


I suppose part of the reason for the post is the relatively unformed nature of this. Not being a lawyer I can't comment on the body of case law that defines the parameters or permissibility of this sort of thing. To imagine it doesn't happen is absurd, and at a general level seems only sensible, i.e. that a person's sentencing decisions are an outgrowth of a moral/ethical construct shaped by, among other things, their Bible/Koran/Torah. At the end of the day it seems more like a sniff test sort of thing.
posted by docpops at 4:52 PM on March 28, 2005


This means that if a man keeps his wife locked in the house, and beats her, jurors could use the bible to get him off. There are way too many illegal things in the bible--it should never be used to convict or set free.

Why are we getting more and more like The Handmaid's Tale everyday? This shit has got to stop.
posted by amberglow at 4:55 PM on March 28, 2005


amberglow writes " This means that if a man keeps his wife locked in the house, and beats her, jurors could use the bible to get him off. There are way too many illegal things in the bible--it should never be used to convict or set free.

"Why are we getting more and more like The Handmaid's Tale everyday? This shit has got to stop."


This is right. You can use whatever you need to make your decision for yourself, but you can't bring Bible verses into a govt courtroom and use it to argue other jurors into voting for the death penalty.

Why do religious people like this (not all religious people) hate America so much?
posted by OmieWise at 5:01 PM on March 28, 2005


The problem here, as I see it, is that the jury's deliberations explicitly contained references to the Mosaic law. While I accept that juries will have their own cultural influences, their responsiblity is to the laws of the state, not their God.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:01 PM on March 28, 2005


These are the same Christians who complained all over Fox News last December about the liberals taking Christ out of Christmas by insisting on the phrase "Happy Holidays" and hate the ACLU for taking the Ten Commandments out of courtrooms?
posted by orthogonality at 5:05 PM on March 28, 2005


blacklite, I think I love you.
posted by DenOfSizer at 5:10 PM on March 28, 2005


"Render unto Caesar what is Caesar, render unto God what is God's."

I think the Jesus® made his feelings quite clear on the issue of separation of church and state.
posted by Freen at 5:12 PM on March 28, 2005


What, exactly, are permissible sources for influence?

Reason, law, and, when those take you to silly places, common sense.
posted by Hildago at 5:25 PM on March 28, 2005


Isn't a jury's job to make a decision based on the evidence presented to them during the trial--hence keeping them away from newspapers and external opinions on the matter? Bringing Bible quotes into a jury deliberation is, to me, just like bringing in an op-ed on the trial and using that to argue against fellow jurors.

That and, if we used the Bible in sentencing, a lot of things would be punishable by death. Eeek.
posted by scarymonsterrrr at 5:34 PM on March 28, 2005


Well, here's the thing. I'm an atheist. I'm against the death penalty. But this is not an issue of separation of church and state. A jusy is not the state; it is a peer group.

Juries have wide discretionary authority when it comes to sentencing. They should be able to use whatever judgment they have to do so, so long as it is supported by law. If the death penalty is an option, and a bunch of them figure that their religious upbringing demands the death penalty, then there should be no intereference from the judge (who *is* acting on behalf of the state).

You can use whatever you need to make your decision for yourself, but you can't bring Bible verses into a govt courtroom and use it to argue other jurors into voting for the death penalty.

Whereas I disagree. They aren't state employees. They should be able to ramble on in tongues if they think it'll convince their fellow jurors.
posted by solid-one-love at 5:36 PM on March 28, 2005


Isn't the United States of America a secular nation? Or am I mistaken?
posted by infini at 5:40 PM on March 28, 2005


Does this mean we can have more public stonings? Cool!
posted by SisterHavana at 5:41 PM on March 28, 2005


Aren't they specifically bound, as scarymonsterrrr said, to go by the evidence presented? they're not instructed to look anywhere else, and are often prohibited from doing so.

This also reminds me of the whole "Jews off juries" thing when it's a death penalty case.
posted by amberglow at 5:41 PM on March 28, 2005


Aren't they specifically bound, as scarymonsterrrr said, to go by the evidence presented?

Sure, when determining guilt or innocence. But this is an issue of sentencing, which is based upon opinions of degree and personal morality. Why does one person get life while another gets death? Why does one convict get 5 years and another 40 years for much the same crime? Juries have broad discretion.
posted by solid-one-love at 5:49 PM on March 28, 2005


This shit has got to stop.

That is what the appeals court did! The appeals court said that it was not okay for the jury to use religion. The appeals court upheld seperation of church and state.

To put it more briefly - the shit stopped here.

I'm not sure how more clear I can be. The jury made a mistake, the court called them out on it and threw out the sentence.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:57 PM on March 28, 2005


Isn't the United States of America a secular nation? Or am I mistaken?

The appeals court, which threw out the jury verdict, agrees with you.

RTFA.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2005


This means that if a man keeps his wife locked in the house, and beats her, jurors could use the bible to get him off.

You mean the Koran.
posted by cinderful at 5:58 PM on March 28, 2005


I think that was the idea, infini, but as we all know, theory and practice tend to diverge over time. Give something, oh, 230 years and it looks totally different!

DenOfSizer, I wish you weren't just saying that because I can get you into Canada. ... because, uh, for that ... there's a line.

unless you're really hot.

posted by blacklite at 6:02 PM on March 28, 2005


Also, all you people yelling RTFA should read the lovely ACS post on the 6th circuit decision. Colorado might have decided against referring to the bible in court, but the issue is far from decided -- and the fact that it's an open issue in any way bothers me.
posted by blacklite at 6:05 PM on March 28, 2005


That is what the appeals court did! The appeals court said that it was not okay for the jury to use religion. The appeals court upheld seperation of church and state.

To put it more briefly - the shit stopped here.


Yeah, like in that Florida right-to-die case where the courts ruled against the fundamentalists a few years ago.

That didn't go anywhere, did it?
posted by PlusDistance at 6:05 PM on March 28, 2005


Yeah, like in that Florida right-to-die case where the courts ruled against the fundamentalists a few years ago.

That's a very different argument. However, you're arguing that some day down the road the court might make a bad decision, despite a pretty clear victory today. Yes, anything could happen down the road. But, today the court said "no" pretty clearly.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:08 PM on March 28, 2005


and the fact that it's an open issue in any way bothers me.

Fair. I respect that opinion. My suggestion to RTFA was not aimed at you, but rather at those who were unclear about the way the court came out.

It's possible that the future might be different. But, today it's right.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:11 PM on March 28, 2005


you're arguing that some day down the road the court might make a bad decision, despite a pretty clear victory today

No, I'm arguing that the radical religious right is a powerful, fanatical bunch of sore losers that won't take a single court ruling (or 5, or 10, or 19) lying down. We've seen that happen in the last few weeks of the Florida clown show. We've seen it over the 10 Commandments. We'll see it again. They've coopted legislatures and executives, overrun the media and issued calls to violence.

Not saying they're definitely going to do it here. Just saying that with this group, a single court ruling doesn't mean anything.
posted by PlusDistance at 6:26 PM on March 28, 2005


To be clearer: it's not just about a "bad decision" somewhere down the road. It's about future bad laws, bad executive orders, demagoguery, intimidation and violence.

Not to mention having to read about this in the media for the next 15 years.
posted by PlusDistance at 6:28 PM on March 28, 2005


Blacklite-

Canada appears to have its own thin wedges, alas. That is, if this is to be believed.

As you say, it's all a problem
posted by IndigoJones at 7:21 PM on March 28, 2005


If they are Christians, then they should have used the Gospels. I think they would have found a much different message there.
posted by UseyurBrain at 7:23 PM on March 28, 2005


R ALL TFA. The second two articles say that the 6th circuit UPHELD the quoting of scripture by a JUDGE.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 7:39 PM on March 28, 2005


As long as a judge's or jury's ruling/sentencing is consistent with the law, I don't see how it matters what else they choose to say about how they reached their decision or why they reached it. It would be totally different if a case such as beard-wearing, the practices of which are not punishable by law in this country as far as I know, were decided by appeal to some extra-legal source of jurisprudence.
posted by clockzero at 8:23 PM on March 28, 2005


> but seriously, people, get out of there.

I would love to but that is not even close to far enough.
posted by prak at 8:32 PM on March 28, 2005


re: RTFA ~thedevildancedlightly

Yes, I know, I was perhaps a bit too brief and tongue in cheek there - but contextually over the past few weeks, religion has been brought up in the case of a) a justified case of allowing a body to die when there was no brain alive b) the move by the state govt in FL that would allow students to sue professors who would not "allow" the belief in creationism as valid in class (paraphrasing here) and let's not forget ohio and the gay marriage ban fiasco.

Having lived in an islamic country and *seen* the impact of Shayriat (Koranic Law) being applied to the muslim population, one believes one is now living in a nation built on rational principles no? viz., Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Watching it slide into what perceptually feels like religious extremism is unnerving.
posted by infini at 8:44 PM on March 28, 2005


blacklite:I think that was the idea, infini, but as we all know, theory and practice tend to diverge over time. Give something, oh, 230 years and it looks totally different

yes, but one doesn't quite expect it to go backwards, does one? :P
posted by infini at 8:47 PM on March 28, 2005


To be clearer: it's not just about a "bad decision" somewhere down the road. It's about future bad laws, bad executive orders, demagoguery, intimidation and violence.

PlusDistance- The points you make are exactly what unnerves me about the direction, tenor and tone of the situation.
posted by infini at 8:50 PM on March 28, 2005


we're the frogs slowly boiling in a tasty--and divinely inspired--stew.
posted by amberglow at 8:50 PM on March 28, 2005


Obligatory: Mistranslated Myths of Nomadic Desert Shepherd Tribe Taken at Face Value

Now The Onion locks up their archives too!?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:33 PM on March 28, 2005


IndigoJones,

I'm afraid I have to disagree with your assessment of the situation. I think the Canadian government has done the right thing here. This is not really Sharia law in Canada, this is more of an issue of cultural freedom. The Sharia courts can only hear civil issues, and only when both parties consent it. Also, its decisions are subject to appeal by the secular courts. This is essentially just Islamic flavoured arbitration.

That is not to say that I have no problems with Sharia, but it would contravene both the constitution and Canada's commitment to multiculturalism to deny consenting Muslims the right to have religious arbitration. I belive the courts drew the line in the right place when deciding what Sharia courts could constitute in Canada. While there are legitimate issues with Sharia in general, this is an issue that Arjomand and the like need to take up with their community, not their government. What these people are fighting is the growing influence of radical and deeply misogynistic Islam in Canada. Islamic arbitration is a symptom of this broader disease, and an official condemnation of it based on tenuous legal grounds will only wind these fanatics tighter. Arjomand's battle is within her own community. I don't have a solution to this problem, and I certainly sympathise with her, but she is fighting the wrong battle.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:40 PM on March 28, 2005


Expletive-

I take your point, but I'm afraid it doesn't put my mind at ease. Arbitration is largely a government money saver, and traditionally it has been based on the law of the land. Here it seems to be, as I said, thin end of a wedge, and not a very nice wedge at that. It is a legal precedent in a legal system that respects precedent.

The there's the definition of community. For legal concerns, I would start with All Canadians, perhaps Ottowans. I would not start with All Toronto Muslims (even those who voluntarily define themselves as such). Once you start to give legal definition to any group by faith or race or sex, you open the path to unequal law. Not a good thing

As to both parties' consent and the chance of appealing to a real (i.e. government run) court- how much trust can a frightened would-be plaintiff put in a government that has already abrogated its traditional (and legal) responsibility? How much pressure is she going to get from the community to keep it out of Canadian courts? On the larger issue, can you tame the growing influence of radical and deeply misogynistic Islam by giving in to the demands of fanatics?

Seems to me you either have equal justice under one law or you don't.

But I've always been rather flat footed in general. Typical American, ey?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:48 AM on March 29, 2005


I swear to Bob, I'll never eat shrimp again!

Just don't kill me please!
posted by nofundy at 6:17 AM on March 29, 2005


Arjomand's battle is within her own community. I don't have a solution to this problem, and I certainly sympathise with her, but she is fighting the wrong battle.

She is fighting the right battle. Paraphrasing from the article, Canada by the very virtue of being a multicultural country provides her with just and fair laws rather than the socially and religiously sanctioned laws of her home nation and home culture. Sharia is notoriously misogynistic, and the societal rules are much worse. It is finally in a country like Canada that a woman can hope to gain rights validating her existence as a rational human being with legal recourse. Take that away from her, and you have a life no different from the one she left behind in Libya.

This is key. Women have NO rights in the majority of the countries in the world.

bleh
/end rant
posted by infini at 7:41 AM on March 29, 2005


I was orginally going to make a new post, but this is probably good enough.

It seems few people were aware that a certain bill was re-introduced on March 3rd. Cheered by some and Jeered by others when it was first introduced with the help of that Ten Commandments-loving Roy Moore. "I see nothing wrong with the Ten Commandments," says Senator Richard Shelby. Their logic follows:
When federal courts prohibit the acknowledgment of God they deny the very source of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness which our founding fathers specifically recognized in the Declaration of Independence as unalienable rights given by God. To prohibit a state official from recognizing God is a violation of the Tenth Amendment as well as the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. If Congress cannot make a law restricting states from the acknowledgment of God under the First Amendment, how can the Supreme Court enforce a law which Congress cannot make? The CRA would restore the balance of power among the various branches of government and restore the fundamental precepts upon which our Constitution and government is based.
So a State's 1st Adm. rights trump any other concerns.

Also, within the Constitution Restoration Act is section 201 that states, "In interpreting and applying the Constitution of the United States, a court of the United States may not rely upon any constitution, law, administrative rule, Executive order, directive, policy, judicial decision, or any other action of any foreign state or international organization or agency, other than the constitutional law and English common law." I wonder if by not mentioning treaties explicitly, that Article VI, Sect. 2 still stands.
posted by john at 11:25 AM on March 29, 2005


probably good enough

(John- Please consider setting up as a new post in the event this gets lost in the shuffle)
posted by IndigoJones at 11:31 AM on March 29, 2005


The Bible says I can own my own army of slaves. That would be nice. I'd make them build a pyramid or something.
posted by m39 at 1:39 PM on March 29, 2005


The Bible approves of incest and polygamy. Also killing or selling children is A-OK. Just no pork or seafood. :-( On the slaves thing m39, they have to be from another country, correct? Heh-heh. Look out Canada and Mexico!
posted by nofundy at 3:25 PM on March 29, 2005


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