Fifth Circuit rules on jurors using Bible during sentencing deliberations

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] on Thursday refused to grant a writ of habeas corpus to convicted murder Khristian Oliver [Texas Criminal Justice profile], who had argued that his Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights were violated when the jury took Bible passages into account when deliberating on his eventual death sentence. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas [official website] had made a factual finding that the Bible did not influence the jury’s decision, and the Fifth Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that Oliver did not present clear and convincing evidence rebutting that finding. The parties agreed that a particular Bible passage was consulted by jurors:

And if he smite him with an instrument of iron, so that he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. And if he smite him with throwing a stone, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. Or if he smite him with an hand weapon of wood, wherewith he may die, and he die, he is a murderer: the murderer shall surely be put to death. The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him. Numbers 35:16-19 (King James).
The Circuits are split on the proper approach to interpreting whether the Bible constitutes an improper external influence. The Fifth Circuit on Thursday held that in such a situation, "the juror has crossed an important line."

The state of Texas has come under criticism lately for executing two foreign nationals after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) [official website] ordered [press release and text] the US to stay such executions. Earlier this month, Texas executed [JURIST report] convicted murderer Heliberto Chi [Texas materials; docket information], a Honduran man who had argued that he was improperly prevented from contacting his government in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations [PDF text]. Last month, lawyers for Mexico made a similar argument [JURIST report] before the ICJ in an unsuccessful attempt [JURIST report] to block the execution [JURIST report] of Mexican citizen Jose Ernesto Medellin [ASIL backgrounder; JURIST news archive].


 

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