Saturday, June 16, 2012

4th Circuit Upholds Sentencing Judge's Comments In Church Robbery Case

In Deyton v. Keller, (4th Cir., June 15, 2012), the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals denied a habeas corpus petition from 3 robbers who were sentenced to ten consecutive 64 to 86 month terms for their armed robbery of a church during Sunday services.  Petitioners unsuccessfully claimed that the judge's remarks during sentencing impermissibly referenced religious beliefs. The sentencing judge, after referring to victim impact statements, had told defendants:
you didn’t just steal money from people. You took God’s money. You took the Lord’s money and those of us that believe that there is an Almighty and that there is a being that created this world to go in and then steal money that is being tendered by people for the furtherance of an earthly kingdom is just outrageous. . . .
In denying habeas relief, the 4th Circuit said:
The disruption of worship services has an especial effect on the community that it was appropriate for a sentencing judge to take into account.... Indeed the law must protect places that demand special tranquility so that our fellow citizens can exercise their constitutional rights free from fear. Religious services are particularly intimate moments regardless of the faith being observed.... Much as we afford the home a particular sanctity...,  houses of worship must be refuges for those seeking guidance, peace, comfort, and religious fellowship without fear of criminal intimidation.