An Eye for an Eye Leaves Everyone Blind: Fields V. Brown and the Case for Keeping the Bible out of Capital Sentencing Deliberations

By Baron, Courtney Rachel | Northwestern University Law Review, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
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An Eye for an Eye Leaves Everyone Blind: Fields V. Brown and the Case for Keeping the Bible out of Capital Sentencing Deliberations


Baron, Courtney Rachel, Northwestern University Law Review


INTRODUCTION ............................................................................................................. 369

I. TENSION BETWEEN THE SIXTH AMENDMENT AND RULE 606(B) ............................ 372

A. The Sixth Amendment Right to an Impartial Jury Trial ............................... 372

B. The Rule Against Juror Impeachment of a Verdict ..................................... 373

C. Codifying the Law's Development in Rule 606(b) ....................................... 377

D. Confusion Following Rule 606(b): The Current State of the Rule Against Juror Impeachment of a Verdict. ................................................................. 379

II. WHY THE NINTH CIRCUIT WRONGLY DECIDED FIELDS V. BROWN ......................... 380

A . A voiding Misconduct: The Fields Court 's Greatest Error .......................... 381

B. Flaws in the Court's Reasoning .................................................................. 383

C. A Note on Biblical Notes ............................................................................. 390

III. POLICY CONSIDERATIONS DEMONSTRATING THAT CONSULTING BIBLICAL MATERIALS CONSTITUTES MISCONDUCT .............................................................. 391

A. Eighth Amendment Requirement of Juror Responsibility ............................ 392

B. Eighth Amendment Requirement of Individualized Sentencing ................... 393

C. Establishment Clause Violation "in the Heart of the Jury Room " .............. 395

D. The Integrity of the Legal System ................................................................ 396

IV. BIBLE-INFLUENCED CAPITAL SENTENCING UNDER THE MODERN AEDPA STANDARD: A CALL FOR SUPREME COURT ACTION .............................................. 397

CONCLUSION ................................................................................................................ 399

INTRODUCTION

While on parole from prison after serving a sentence for manslaughter, Stevie Lamar Fields embarked on a three-week "one man crime wave"1 that involved premeditated murder and the kidnapping, rape, and robbery of multiple victims in California.2 On the afternoon that the penalty phase of Fields' s trial began, the jury deliberated for a mere two hours and failed to reach a verdict.3 The jury's foreperson, Rodney White, returned home that evening and consulted his Bible for guidance.4 Drawing from the Bible, White crafted a list of notes "for" and "against" the death penalty.5 When deliberations resumed the next morning, he shared the written notes from his evening of research with at least some of the other jurors.6 By three o'clock, the jury had reached a verdict authorizing the imposition of the death penalty.7 California appellate courts affirmed Fields's conviction and death sentence, but on collateral review, the Central District of California granted Fields's habeas corpus petition, which was based on a claim that the jury had improperly considered extrinsic evidence during its penalty phase deliberations.8 Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed the district court's judgment and affirmed Fields's conviction and death sentence.9

Fields's case is far from the first to involve jurors who seek guidance from the Bible during capital sentencing deliberations. In People v. Harlan, jurors imposed the death penalty after consulting a Bible, Bible index, and handwritten notes.10 Although the Colorado Supreme Court in Harlan confronted facts strikingly similar to those in Fields v. Brown, it upheld the trial court's decision to vacate the defendant's death sentence "because there was a reasonable possibility that use of the Bible in the jury room . . . would have influenced a typical juror to reject a life sentence . . . .""

In a similar Fourth Circuit case, Robinson v. Polk, when the jurors convened to determine Marcus Robinson's fate, one read aloud from the Bible, citing an "eye for an eye" in an effort to persuade the others to impose the death penalty.

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