Yan's Corner - In Touch

Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Bible and the Law

I am quite amazed by the way I am involved with the “law and lawyer” these two days.

First, my cousin, CY sent me the edited text speech of Anwar Ibrahim entitled “Two different kinds of lawyers” that was delivered at the Law Asia Conference in Brisbane, Australia on March 22. The two kinds of lawyer in Anwar’s words are first, the lawyers who know the law and second, the lawyers who know the judge. It was a good read.

Then, I encountered the lawyer of the third kind – the lawyer who is angry.

And now, the law and the bible. The New York Times reported on March 29 that “Colorado Court Bars Execution Because Jurors Consulted Bible.”

According to the report, the highest court of Colorado upheld a lower court’s decision throwing out the sentence of a man who was given the death penalty. The reason? Because the jurors consulted the Bible in reaching a verdict. The court said that the Bible constituted an improper outside influence and a reliance on what the court called higher authority”.

Robert Harlan was found guilty in 1995 of raping and murdering a cocktail waitress. The jurors voted unanimously for death sentence on Harlan. However, the Supreme Court decided to change the death sentence to life in prison.

The 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 New York Times gathered some opinions from legal scholars. Here are some of the opinions:

… the connection between hard legal logic and the softer, deeper world of values is always present in jury rooms, whether acknowledged or not.

…"The court says we're asking you to be moral men and women, to make a moral judgment of the right thing to do," said Thane Rosenbaum, a professor of law at Fordham University School of Law in New York City, and author of the book "The Myth of Moral Justice: Why Our Legal System Fails to Do What's Right" (HarperCollins, 2004). "But then we say the juror cheated because he brought in a book that forms the basis of his moral universe," Professor Rosenbaum said. "The thing is, he would have done it anyway, in his head."

One juror testified she studied Romans and Leviticus, including Leviticus 24, which includes the famous articulation of Old Testament justice: "eye for eye, tooth for tooth."

Or have the higher court used "Love your enemies..." - the teachings from Luke?

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