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February 14, 2006

Notable split capital habeas ruling from the Fourth Circuit

A split panel of the Fourth Circuit issued interesting opinions in Robinson v. Polk, No. 05-1 (4th Cir. Feb. 14, 2006) (available here), in the course of rejecting a North Carolina death-row inmate's habeas claims. Here is the opening paragraph from the majority's ruling in Robinson:

Marcus Reymond Robinson, a North Carolina death-row inmate, appeals the district court's denial of his habeas petition filed under 28 U.S.C.A. § 2254 (West 1994 & Supp. 2005).  We granted a certificate of appealability to consider two claims raised by Robinson: (1) that the trial court's jury instructions during the guilt phase of his trial violated the Eighth Amendment; and (2) that a juror's recitation of a Biblical passage during sentencing deliberations violated the Sixth Amendment. Applying the deferential standard of review required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), we conclude that the North Carolina court's decision denying Robinson relief on these claims was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.  Accordingly, we deny Robinson's petition and his request for an evidentiary hearing on his Bible claim.

Notably, Judge King "most strenuously" dissents on the Sixth Amendment issue.  Here is how he frames his concern:

[W]hen a jury's deliberations have been contaminated by an improper external influence — even if that influence relates to the Bible of England's first Stuart King — public confidence in our judicial system is undermined and the jury's verdict must not be enforced.

February 14, 2006 at 04:02 PM | Permalink


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If every time a juror discussed something from their own experience in deliberations, there could never be a conviction or sentence imposed. Judge King's dissent, however "strenuous," is a great example of the problem some members of the judiciary have with the jury system itself. Judge King wants to dictate what the jurors are allowed to discuss and what they're not allowed to discuss. Why doesn't he just tell them how to vote?


Posted by: Mark | Feb 14, 2006 5:06:44 PM

I assume your reaction would be the same, Mark, if a Muslim juror had recited a passage from the Koran to justify his/her verdict?

Posted by: defender | Feb 15, 2006 11:57:06 AM

Mark, I am in the midst of selecting a jury in a capital case in north carolina. I asked one juror what her beliefs were about capital punishment and she said ,"I believe in the what the Bible says. I believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." What if she had not volunteered that opinion and it did not come out under questioning for whatever reason. If she had been selected to sit on the jury, there would have been a juror there who would not have followed the law and would have made up her mind on her decision based on matters that were not introduced into evidence, in violation of the Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right of confrontation.

Bruce Cunningham

Posted by: | Aug 16, 2008 9:03:20 AM

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Posted by: | Oct 14, 2008 10:31:18 PM

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