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Supreme Court Term Just Got Less Interesting

As the stock market and the presidential campaign get even more interesting, in an anxious and painful sort of way, at least jury watchers can pay a little less attention to the Supreme Court term. The Court refused today to decide two cases involving jury issues. From Scotusblog:

Among the more significant issues the Court turned aside, by simply denying review, were the constitutionality of convicting an individual of a crime by a non-unanimous jury verdict (Lee v. Louisiana, 07-1523), [and] the constitutionality of jurors’ using a Bible during secret deliberations on whether to sentence a convicted individual to death (Lucero v. Texas, 07-1429)[.]

Scotusblog's detailed rundown on Lee v. Louisiana is here, and and there's a briefer synopsis of Lucero v. Texas in the list here.

Still murky, still clear

The two denials leave one question as clear as ever, and the other as murky as ever. The denial in Lee means it's still constitutional under Apodaca v. Oregon for states to allow criminal convictions by less than unanimous verdicts. Mr. Lee had hoped to convince the Court's strict constructionists to return to the unanimous jury the founding fathers might have expected; others will likely keep trying.

In Lucero, a Texas jury answered questions in a way that mandated the death penalty after the foreman read this passage from Romans 13:1-6 aloud:
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing.

The jurors all submitted affidavits saying the reading didn't change their verdict, and the trial judge denied an evidentiary hearing. The Texas Supreme Court affirmed. The Bible comes up in the jury room more often than you might think, and the Lucero denial leaves judges to handle the issue case by case.

Judges, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, weigh in: would a ruling in either of these cases have made a difference for you?

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