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January 6, 2005

Sentencing and religion

The intersection of sentencing issues and religion is a fascinating (and, in my view, underexamined) topic. These matters are actively percolating in the corrections setting, with the faith-based prison movement and a forthcoming Supreme Court case about RLUIPA (background here).  We also often see opposition to the death penalty influenced by religious views, as evidenced by developments last year in Ohio and the work of Sister Helen Prejean.  But on occasion, as evidenced by an intriguing Sixth Circuit case today, these matters can also intersect in individual sentencings.  (Thanks to How Appealing and a reader for the tip.)

In today's Sixth Circuit decision in Arnett v. Jackson, No. 03-4375 (6th Cir. Jan. 6, 2005), a divided panel reversed a grant of habeas corpus in favor of a state prisoner in a child rape case.  The district court granted habeas due to the state trial judge's reference to the Bible during petitioner's sentencing hearing, based on the conclusion that the "trial court's use of the Bible as a 'final source of authority' constituted an impermissible factor for sentencing." 

The Sixth Circuit, over a vigorous dissent, disagreed: it contended that "the principle embedded in the referenced Biblical passage (of not harming young children) is fully consistent with Ohio’s sentencing consideration to the same effect," and it suggested that the state trial judge "cited to the Biblical passage to underscore the contention that our society has a long history of sternly punishing those people who hurt young children."  The whole case is a very interesting read, as this provocative passage from the Judge Clay's dissent highlights:

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. The judge would be placed in the position of not only considering statutory sentencing factors, but also deciding which religious texts best justify a particular sentence. Under this approach, the judgments of trial courts could begin to resemble the fatwas of religious clerics, and the opinions of appellate courts echo the proclamations of the Sanhedrin. The result would be sentencing procedures that create the perception of the bench as a pulpit for which judges announce their personal sense of religiosity.

January 6, 2005 at 12:26 PM | Permalink

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» 6th Circuit Says Relying on the Bible In Sentencing is Okay from ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society
The Sixth Circuit overturned a grant of habeas corpus in child rape case. The district court had granted the habeas petition because the state judge referred to the Bible during the petitioner's sentencing. The district court held, "trial court's use... [Read More]

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» Thursday Morning News Summary from ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society
Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he "absolutely disapproved of torturing prisoners to gain information", according to the New York Times. Gonzales' testimony came during the first day of his confirmation hearings to become the ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 6, 2005 3:37:36 PM

» Thursday Morning News Summary from ACSBlog: The Blog of the American Constitution Society
Alberto Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he "absolutely disapproved of torturing prisoners to gain information", according to the New York Times. Gonzales' testimony came during the first day of his confirmation hearings to become the ... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 6, 2005 3:38:50 PM

Comments

I am an ex-convict who went from the depths of Marion Prison and a dozen more to the hallowed halls of Northwestern University.

Posted by: Scotirish | Feb 9, 2007 12:23:56 AM

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