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Judge throws out sentance because of Bible

Colorado Judiciary Bible

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#1 Rov Judicata

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 01:05 PM

http://boston.com/da...th_sente:.shtml

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DENVER, (Reuters) - A Colorado judge Friday overturned a convicted murderer's death sentence because jurors consulted Biblical passages such as an ''eye for an eye'' during death-penalty deliberations.

Robert Harlan was convicted and sentenced to death in 1995 for the murder of Rhonda Maloney, a waitress who was driving home from work when Harlan forced her car off the road.

Harlan also shot and paralyzed good Samaritan Jaquie Creazzo who tried to come to the woman's aid.

While noting that Harlan's crimes ''were among the most grievous, heinous and reprehensible'' he had seen in 18 years on the bench, Adams County District Judge John J. Vigil said court officials failed to properly sequester the jury.

Jury members stayed in a hotel during deliberations and court officials made sure newspapers were not delivered to their rooms, but the jurors did find bibles in the rooms.

''The jury supervision performed in this case was extremely negligent and appallingly lax,'' Vigil wrote in his ruling. ''Jury resort to biblical code has no place in a constitutional death penalty proceeding.''

Vigil has not yet set a date for Harlan's resentencing.

''We respectively disagree and will appeal,'' Adams County assistant district attorney Steve Bernard said. He also said the record was not clear about whether a bible was brought into the jury room.

In a five-day hearing last month, Harlan's attorneys argued that several jurors consulted biblical scripture during jury deliberations, particularly two Old Testament passages from Leviticus that read, ''fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.'' And, ''whoever kills an animal shall restore it, but whoever kills a man shall be put to death.''

Prosecutors had argued that the sequestration order applied to news media coverage and that jurors should be allowed to draw upon their personal moral code including the Bible while rendering a verdict.

I honestly have no words to describe how stupid this is.

Didn't the witnesses swear in on the Bible in the first place? :o
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#2 Julie

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 02:43 PM

Okay, a little context for that, relevant section in bold...

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Leviticus 24:17-22 (NIV):
" 'If anyone takes the life of a human being, he must be put to death.  Anyone who takes the life of someone's animal must make restitution-life for life.  If anyone injures his neighbor, whatever he has done must be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. As he has injured the other, so he is to be injured.  Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a man must be put to death.  You are to have the same law for the alien and the native-born. I am the LORD your God.' "

However, this case isn't even about the Bible, or the standards of morality it sets.  This is about quoting from a non-American code of law in an American courtroom, which doesn't seem terribly logical.

#3 QueenTiye

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 04:06 PM

Javert Rovinski, on May 23 2003, 10:12 PM, said:

I honestly have no words to describe how stupid this is.

Didn't the witnesses swear in on the Bible in the first place? :o
I agree.  Freedom of conscience means that we are each entitled to consult our own conscience in rendering our decisions regarding our civic duty.  On the other hand - were all jurors in agreement about using the bible as a standard? did any jurors feel constrained by this?  I think that has some bearing on the outcome.

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#4 Norville

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 04:28 PM

I agree that it's stupid, but apart from that...

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Didn't the witnesses swear in on the Bible in the first place?

That can be a problem even for some who believe in what the Bible says. Quakers, for example, who will not "swear" to anything, but will affirm, and not on the Bible, because they believe in telling the truth at all times, anyway, and doing so on the Bible suggests that they're making an exception to tell the truth then and there.

Just tossing some thoughts into the air, excuse me. ;)
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#5 Godeskian

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 07:43 PM

plus i know the US courts allow you to just swear to tell the truth

because folks like I will not swear anything on the bible because i believe it to be nothing but a fairytale, and God the biggest mass delusion in human history

I won't swear to tell the truth on behalf of that, and most courts in the US, UK, Holland and Germany (those are the ones i know about) allow you to just simply swear to tellt he truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

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#6 Delvo

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Posted 24 May 2003 - 10:19 PM

When you select a juror, you get the whole person; (s)he's there to make a decision, and you go into the trial expecting each juror to apply his/her own thoughts in making that decision. Having the PEOPLE make the decision is what juries are all about. If juror happens to be religious, (s)he is likely to make decisions based on religion, whether (s)he says so or not and whether (s)he mentions particular verses openly in the process or not. If you don't want religion influencing judicial decisions, then you have to eliminate the people who would make a decision that way.

And then you're using religion to pick which people will have the power to participate in the judicial system. That's establishing a state religion of atheism, and starting in immediately with the oppression of people of other religions.

#7 Orpheus

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 02:11 AM

Some nitpicks:

1) They threw out the sentence, not the conviction. If they'd thrown out the conviction, the guy could get off free and clear, due to double jeopardy. There is no law preventing a resentencing in murder cases, however. He could be reassigned the death penalty on resentencing by a new jury. Or. if I recall correctly, under a new Clorado law, a panel of three judges (I don't know if Robert Harlan would be grandfathered under the old jury rule, or if he'd have the option to choose - I ain't no lawyer, 'specially no Colorado Lawyer- but even if he had an option and chose a jury the first time around, he might think twice now. Then again, Colorado is hardly a state where I'd immediately choose a jury sentencing over a judge in a capital case, given its recent history.

(edited after rummaging my Pile'o'Links -like maryavatar's bag'o'kink, but more dangerous- ah, here's one:
http://csmweb2.emcwe.../12/01/p2s3.htm
It primarily covers capital sentencing in Colorado since Dec 1998 (Harlan was sentenced in 1995) but it provides some background on how other states address capital sentencing, too.

Anything to help my fellow homicidal maniacs.

2) I can't believe the Globe was so stupid as to use the headline "US judge overturns death sentence: jury used Bible" -- it was a Colorado case, not a federal one, as they themselves say in the article.

3) Atheism isn't a religion, so it can't be a state religion. I'll concede that there are atheistic religions (that don't have gods) but that's a classification, like theism, not a religion itself. You can decide to paint your bedroom 'a color', but good luck buying "color" paint at Home Depot. Color is a concept, only its instantiations, like red or blue, exist). Sorry. Nothing personal - pet peeve.

4) I suppose this ruling should be seen as just one procedural issue out of many (the guy was convicted 8 years ago)  As the judge was quoted as saying in the article: "While noting that Harlan's crimes 'were among the most grievous, heinous and reprehensible' he had seen in 18 years on the bench, Adams County District Judge John J. Vigil said court officials failed to properly sequester the jury." ....  " 'The jury supervision performed in this case was extremely negligent and appallingly lax,' Vigil wrote in his ruling."

It really is fairly little trouble to do a re-sentencing, compared to all the issues and appeals, often mandatory, in a capital case. Any human life is worth no less than the highest judical standards Yeah, I think he's scum - but arguably so are most serious criminals, by definition. We can't disregard rights and human dignity in our criminal justice system, though criminals themselves routinely do. The idea, if I recall correctly is to obey the high standards we set for ourselves, not sink to criminaility and schoolyard vindictiveness the moment we find an excuse.

Edited by Orpheus, 25 May 2003 - 02:15 AM.


#8 Christopher

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 02:59 AM

Javert Rovinski, on May 23 2003, 10:12 PM, said:

''Jury resort to biblical code has no place in a constitutional death penalty proceeding.''
This is the key passage here, and the reason I agree with the judge's ruling.  It's not about the Bible, or about church vs. state or any of that.  It's a simple application of the principle that a jury must base its decision only on the evidence presented in court and on the letter of the laws that apply to the case under deliberation.  Bringing a separate legal code to bear on the case is improper.  This case was tried under Colorado law, and thus the jurors were obligated to base their decision solely on Colorado law, not the law of ancient Israel or wherever.  This isn't a religious issue, it's a jurisdictional one.  If someone had brought in a copy of Ontario's or Italy's or Singapore's legal code and used it to determine a verdict in a Colorado case, that would be improper procedure and the verdict would be invalid.  This is no different.

Edited by Christopher, 25 May 2003 - 03:00 AM.

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#9 Laoise

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 04:19 AM

If it had been any line other than 'eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth' I would probably think the judge is right.  However, that's probably the most quoted line out of the entire Bible.  It's extremely popular and is well-known even amoung people who don't ever read the Bible.  Many people can quote that line and tell you what they think of it without even realizing it came orginally from the Bible.

"Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" is a saying that's part of the culture -- not just Christianity, but all over North America for people of all beliefs.  It's not a line that you have to consult the Bible to know.  And because it's so popular, because it's said so often, it can become part of our personal moral codes that we use when making judgements.

The jury in question, if I've read the article correctly, didn't decide whether he was guilty or innocent, but made a judgement call on what punishment the man deserved.  You can't make a judgement call without using your own moral code.

If it had been a line from the Bible that wasn't well-known and that had to be looked up, I would say they used the Bible inappropirately.  But it's not something that you need the Bible to understand.  It's not something you need to have read in the Bible or have heard in church to recognize.  It's not really a Biblical saying anymore.
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#10 Rhys

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 05:07 AM

The phrase/concept actually dates back to the Code of Hammurabi - but to use the Bible as justification for it requires a bit of selective reading, because Matthew 5:38-39 says (Jesus speaking):

Quote

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth." But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

The phrase has also been used to express a limitation - the punishment should be no more severe than the crime; no cutting off hands for stealing a loaf of bread or that sort of thing.


I think the point is that as stated:  The results of a Colorado court should be determined by the laws of Colorado, and no others.  If there are elements of the Bible, or the Code of Hammurabi, or the Laws of California that they want to use in Colorado, then they should be explicity included in the Laws of Colorado.

And, actually, Laoise, I have to disagree with you - even common knowledge, well-known quotes, and personal morality should not come into it.  Our legal system is based on people being judged by the law, not what the jury feels like that day.  (Your argument runs into difficulties in jurisdictions that do not have capital punishment, for instance.)

I think the real "travesty" here is the sensationalist slant to the reporting, not the incident itself.

Rhys

Edited by Rhys, 25 May 2003 - 05:08 AM.

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#11 Orpheus

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 05:17 AM

While I agree that the quote you cited from the judge's ruling is very much on-point, and telling and  I generally agree with what you say, Christopher, I got the sense that this was just one element of his judicial reasoning in making this ruling

This was not a trial, it was a sentencing hearing. The jury was being specifically asked for a value judgement, more than a strictly legal one: should this person get a life sentence or a death? If state laws allows, should the possibility of parole be revoked? In the case of this multiple murder should the sentences be concurrent or sequential?

The law deliberately only specifies a range of allowable punishments, and often, especially in the case of capital offenses, sentencing guidelines for jurors.

Value judgements cannot be excluded from any jury trial, nor am I convinced they should be. Though I fear the cases of abuses outnumber the benefits, I'm not convinced that they outweigh them. A fundamental tenet in our country is that it is better to free several guilty people than to imprison an innocent one. Indeed, one reason we have jury trials instead of only judge trials is a fundamental acknowledgement, at the base of our system of justice, that different people will make different judgements of the facts, based on heir values and experience and that this is not only valid but in some way desirable. One classic example would be civil disobedience: any person opposing an injustice through nonlegal acts should be willing to bear the full consequences of their acts, but I am certainly glad that they have the opportunity to present their reasoning to their fellow citizens, to be weighed.

Since in a sentencing, the jury is being asked to make value judgements to a greater degree than they are in a jury trial, and since for many people -possibly most- early religious training or current religious belief are the primary or even only value system they have that would cover such matters, the pretense of excluding religious values from sentencing can only be a cynical fraud. I say that as someone who is no fan of organized religion, despite having studied several major religious traditions in their original texts/languages.

There's been a Bible in just about every hotel room I've stayed in. Heck, the first Bible I ever owned was Gideon bible that was imprinted "take this with you, if you like". However, though I have studied the Bible, I can tell you that for all the attention it gets during my typical hotel stay, it might as well be a brick.  If I were to open it, it'd be a conscious and deliberate choice on my part to confirm some element of a tradition I knew - just as I might read Buber, Rand,  Annas, or Rawls.

There is absolutely nothing in any law to prevent a lawyer from quoting the Bible in closing arguments (it's not even that terribly uncommon, in my limited experience as a juror) Nor is a a witness precluded from quoting it  in testimony (though opposing counsel may object if s/he can find a ground); nor is a juror prevented from quoting it in the  course of the free discussions of deliberations in the jury room. I can even point you at many landmark Supreme Court  rulings that mention quotes from the Bible.

The use of a religious work in a legal proceeding does not invalidate it, though I agree it certainly should not carry the weight of the law,  or anything near it.

As I see it, the problem is not that jurors consulted the Bible, per se, but that the Bible -and only the Bible- was left in the room of each juror as a potential influence, and that this is against the regulations and policy of that court. (It wasn't so very long ago that it wouldn't have been) It's a procedural error, and apparently it was successfully argued that it was a prejudicial one. However, in all candor, how many of us truly believe that the kind of juror who would be influenced by a Biblical injunction, with a man's life on the line, would be  unaware of that particular Biblical injunction? It's ridiculously well known, esp. among those who'd care.

The potentially prejudicial influence lies in being locked in a room with a TV and a Bible (and only a Bible) all night, while weighing a heavy decision. I wonder how the judge would've reacted if a juror had requested a Quran or the works of John Stuart Mills? Oddly, I think he might be more inclined to allow the Quran!

I understand that more people draw their values from religion than formal philosophy, and I agree that the courts do try to mitigate undue influence of any religion, but the law does not try to strike it entirely from the consciences of the jurors - or for that matter, the accused or the witnesses.

I am, as I noted, I am no fan of organized religion.  I am equally not a fan of "political correctness" (or the very notion that, in our nation, any individual or group should be able to establish themselves as unilateral arbiter of what is "correct" politically) The tenor of recent times has seen quite a few rulings, such as a circuit court striking down Ohio's state motto,  "With God, All Things Are Possible," (while not daring to address the "In God we Trust" seen on many Federal seals and the Federal currency), or attempts to strike the flag of the Confederacy from state flags on the ignorant impression (disproved in every high school civics class)  that the Civil War was solely or primarily about slavery  and ignoring the historical lineage of that flags lineage before becoming the symbol of the Confederacy.  

The left-facing swastika was a symbol of peace for thousands of years, among  the Aryans, and is hallowed in the Indian subcontinent. What do you think would happen if I displayed it on my house? I would fear for my safety, even if I put up a sign, and explained on TV, that it is not the right-facing Nazi swastika, and I many educated people would cluck-cluck when I was attacked, calling my actions provocative and "asking for trouble". The same can be said of any mention of religion in a government setting, though every survey ever performed indicates that, as individuals, most Americans rely strongly and consciously on religion.

Though, as I said, I respect your point, and it is supported by your evidence, To me, all of the above examples ring of false idealism on the part of the public (a falseness that judges making controversial rulings probably find it wise to pay homage to, and which journalists clearly select out to address. I am deeply troubled by such casual hypocrisy, because it can be (and often is) led in horrific directions by cynical leaders.

Maybe I'm wrong in considering this purely a procedural matter. But that'd help me sleep better at night.

#12 Julie

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 05:22 AM

Warning: slight digression ahead.

Rhys, on May 24 2003, 02:14 PM, said:

to use the Bible as justification for it requires a bit of selective reading, because Matthew 5:38-39 says (Jesus speaking):

Quote

You have heard that it was said, "Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth."  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

In this particular case, I'm not sure it's selective reading.  Leviticus is about setting a national code of law; Matthew, a code of personal conduct.

#13 Bad Wolf

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Posted 25 May 2003 - 10:21 AM

Not only do I agree with Orpheus, I agree with the judge.

Jurors are NOT I repeat NOT to base their verdicts or sentences on ANYTHING but the EVIDENCE admitted in court and the LEGAL INSTRUCTIONS given to them by the court.

This is not an issue that allows for a lot of grey.  It is the rule and there's a damned good reason (set forth in the rule itself).

It's not a matter of getting "the whole person" but of BASING a decision on something it is not properly based on.

The court was convinced that this is precisely what happened.

And I'm willing to bet that a lot of people wouldn't be so outraged of the "extracurricular" material referred to had been something other than the Bible.

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#14 QueenTiye

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 02:18 AM

^^Lil I can imagine a discussion on sentencing in the jury room - in which they are all looking for reasonable standards of human punishment, and they debate various traditions and viewpoints, of which ONE of them was the biblical viewpoint demonstrated in the quote - and you mean to say that that constitutes inappropriate jury behavior?  I certainly hope not.    

In fact, if the discourse went like I described above - I wish MORE discussions did.  We have a literate tradition for a very good reason - we WANT to know what others before us, prophets, poets, songsters, etc... think about the big issues - and we have a right to discuss them as we determine our own position.  

The only instance in which I can see this being actually a valid decision of the judge is if the jurors were advised to consult the bible by a lawyer, or if they misunderstood the judge and took a statement of his as advice to the jury.  THAT would be inappropriate.  

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#15 Bad Wolf

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 05:20 AM

QueenTiye, on May 25 2003, 08:25 AM, said:

^^Lil I can imagine a discussion on sentencing in the jury room - in which they are all looking for reasonable standards of human punishment, and they debate various traditions and viewpoints, of which ONE of them was the biblical viewpoint demonstrated in the quote - and you mean to say that that constitutes inappropriate jury behavior?  I certainly hope not.   
Yes.  That is *exactly* what I'm saying.

The only *standard* they get to consider or base their decision on is the one given to them by the judge.

Period.
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#16 Shoshana

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 06:38 AM

I agree with the decision. I can't really tell from the article if the jurors actually got the Bibles out and read them while determining the sentence, but the Bible wasn't part of the trial itself. And it wouldn't be right to determine a sentence using an imposed belief system.

Why don't they just move the sentencing to Texas? No doubt about the outcome here.

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#17 Kimmer

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 10:23 AM

Una Salus Lillius, on May 25 2003, 11:27 AM, said:

QueenTiye, on May 25 2003, 08:25 AM, said:

^^Lil I can imagine a discussion on sentencing in the jury room - in which they are all looking for reasonable standards of human punishment, and they debate various traditions and viewpoints, of which ONE of them was the biblical viewpoint demonstrated in the quote - and you mean to say that that constitutes inappropriate jury behavior?  I certainly hope not.   
Yes.  That is *exactly* what I'm saying.

The only *standard* they get to consider or base their decision on is the one given to them by the judge.

Period.
I sat on a drug trafficing case a few years back. When the judge gave us our instructions, he set the legal "standard" for evidence and consideration of evidence. as it is spelled out in the laws of our state and county. As a result of that standard, the 12 of us sat in the jury room and discussed how we could work with the standard and come up with a guilty verdict. We couldn't. We had no choice but to come back with not guilty.

The problem? The defendant in this case WAS guilty, and as a result of our verdict, he went back to the streets and sold more drugs to kids, and eventually they got him. The next time, they had GOOD evidence that met the legal standards and the guy is now in prison for life (he was a 3rd striker).

As one who holds the Bible in high regard, and does use it as a standard in her own life -- this was the most difficult jury experience I have ever had, and I had some difficult days as I came to grip with the whole thing.

In the long run though, we - the jury - did what was legally correct. Morally? Probably not. But we weren't there to judge this man on our moral codes.

#18 Bad Wolf

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 11:57 AM

Precisely.

The jury isn't there to pass moral judgment but LEGAL judgment.

If the prosecution didn't prove its case then that's that.

It isn't perfect but it is what it is.

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#19 Delvo

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 12:47 PM

Una Salus Lillius, on May 25 2003, 07:04 PM, said:

The jury isn't there to pass moral judgment but LEGAL judgment.

If the prosecution didn't prove its case then that's that.
This was AFTER the prosecution HAD proven the case; I don't see what that has to do with this. The guy was found guilty, and this story is form the sentencing phase. That's when it IS a moral issue: What level of punishment is suitable for the wrong done? Convicting/aquitting jurors are required to use the law; sentencing jurors are required to use their conscience. And that's where the Bible comes in for Christian jurors. It's not a code of law intruding on jurisdiction. It's conscience and morality, religiously derived or not being irrelevant, being put to use precisely where it should be, as the law expects, requires, and is designed for. (Otherwise, a particular sentence could be automaticly calculated from the facts of the trial in which the criminal was convicted; there wouldn't be a range of options for those responsible for sentencing to choose within. The system was set up with PEOPLE deciding sentences on purpose.)

I honestly don't like it either. I detest religion so strongly that even the unreligious here would probably be shocked and offended to read what I have to say about it. But telling people that their morality/conscience can't be based on religion, or that it's not welcome in situations where others' morality/conscience is called upon just because it's religion-based, is oppressing religion or making the religious a lower class of citizen. And that's one of the things I hate religion for doing in the first place.

#20 Bad Wolf

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Posted 26 May 2003 - 12:53 PM

Sentencing guidelines are just as important as the guidelines governing coming to the verdict.  There was a separate proceeding for sentencing and evidence was presented and the jury intstructed.

They screwed up.

If they'd made the same error during the deliberations of the verdict it would have been grounds for a new trial.
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