Instructions Must Not Interfere With Jurors’ Ability to Consider Their Personal Religious, Philosophical, and Secular Normative Values During Penalty Deliberation
November 17th, 2019

During the penalty instructions in People v. Gomez (Ruben P.) (2018) 6 Cal.5th 243 the judge said that jurors “are sometime tempted in this phase of the case to refer to biblical references.  Don’t bring the Bible and, don’t refer to those.” The CSC concluded that it is not improper for jurors to consider their religious belief during penalty deliberations.  Nor is improper for a juror to consider “personal religious, philosophical, or secular normative values during penalty deliberation.”  At the same time, penalty determinations are to be based on evidence presented and not by recourse to extraneous authority.  The CSC agreed with the Attorney General that the court’s prohibition on “refer[ring] to biblical references,” understood in context, precluded only the use of biblical texts during deliberations; it did not preclude the jury from relying on personal religious beliefs.  The instructions correctly stated the law.  Furthermore, it was not reasonably likely that the jury understood the trial court’s brief statement regarding “biblical references” to mean they could not rely on their personal religious belief during deliberations.


Nevertheless, the CSC cautioned judges to ensure that they are not improperly interfering with the jurors’ ability to consider their religious and other personal beliefs and values.