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  • March 30, 2005

    Is Court a Place for Morals?

    Los Angeles Times

    When the Colorado Supreme Court overturned Robert Harlan's death sentence on Monday, it showed once again just how uncomfortable the American legal system is in invoking moral values as a basis for legal decision-making.

    Harlan had been convicted of raping and murdering a cocktail waitress in Denver in 1995. Before sending the jury out to determine his fate, the lower court judge instructed each juror to make an "individual moral assessment" of whether Harlan should pay the ultimate price for his crime or, instead, spend the rest of his life in jail. Colorado law is unusual in explicitly asking jurors to evaluate their own moral beliefs when deciding capital cases. Taking the judge's instructions seriously, one or more jurors brought a Bible into the jury room and referred to it during deliberations. Harlan was sentenced to death; one juror later acknowledged that she had studied Leviticus 24: an "eye for an eye, tooth for tooth."


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