The Colorado Supreme Court has thrown out a death sentence because the jury consulted the Bible
The Bible, the court said, constituted an improper outside influence and a reliance on what the court called a "higher authority."
"The judicial system works very hard to emphasize the rarified, solemn and sequestered nature of jury deliberations," the majority said in a 3-to-2 decision by a panel of the Colorado Supreme Court. "Jurors must deliberate in that atmosphere without the aid or distraction of extraneous texts."
But the jury was, in fact, just following orders:
After Mr. Harlan's conviction, the judge in the case - as Colorado law requires - sent the jury off to deliberate about the death penalty with an instruction to think beyond the narrow confines of the law. Each juror, the judge told the panel, must make an "individual moral assessment," [italics mine, ac] in deciding whether Mr. Harlan should live.
The jurors voted unanimously for death. The State Supreme Court's decision changes that sentence to life in prison without parole.
In the decision on Monday, the dissenting judges said the majority had confused the internal codes of right and wrong that juries are expected to possess in such weighty moral matters with the outside influences that are always to be avoided, like newspaper articles or television programs about the case. The jurors consulted Bibles, the minority said, not to look for facts or alternative legal interpretations, but for wisdom.
"The biblical passages the jurors discussed constituted either a part of the jurors' moral and religious precepts or their general knowledge, and thus were relevant to their court-sanctioned moral assessment," the minority wrote.
So we can have morals as long as they don't come from the Bible, which is an extraneous text and an improper "higher authority." I think I've got it.