Supreme Court considers case of conversion and death penalty
All eyes are on the Supreme Court this week, at least indirectly, and it's not even June. There's Rehnquist's cancer, internet rumors that Bush is considering Thomas as chief justice, debate on the influence Sen. Arlen Specter might have over nominations, speculation on whether Alberto Gonzalez is now out of the running … and even an actual court case—the federal government's request that the Supreme Court take up the case of Oregon's assisted suicide law.
But yesterday, the justices considered another interesting case that has something to do with religion: Brown v. Payton. Weblog summarized this case back in May: It has to do with a California prosecutor's telling a jury not to consider murderer William Payton's conversion to Christianity when it sentenced him.
The legal aspects of the case are rather interesting. Everyone pretty much agrees that the prosecutor made an error — California law at that time instructed juries in capital cases to consider "any other circumstance which extenuates the gravity of the crime even though it is not a legal excuse for the crime." That would apparently include Payton's repentance. The question is over whether the prosecutor's mistake was big enough to give Payton a new hearing. The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last October that it was, and California appealed to the Supreme Court. The Associated Press reports, "The justices were divided over whether the errors made a difference in sentencing," with Justice David Souter saying it did. "The prosecutor stands there and twice said, 'You can't legally consider this evidence,' and the judge never corrects it," Souter noted. "Why isn't this a reasonable likelihood of error?" ...1
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