Sunday, June 09, 2013

No Free Exercise Problem With Evidence of Defendant's Santa Muerte Necklace

In Batiste v. State of Texas, (TX Ct. Crim App., June 5, 2013), defendant who was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death objected, among other things, to the introduction at the penalty phase of his trial of a Santa Muerte necklace he was wearing when arrested. Apparently drug traffickers pray to Santa Muerte to ward off the police when making a drug run. The court held that appellant had failed to object on any 1st Amendment religious ground to introduction of the evidence. It added in a lengthy footnote, however:
Even if appellant had objected on a First Amendment basis, claiming that the admission of the necklace infringed upon his right to his free exercise of religion, the trial judge would not have abused his discretion in overruling that objection. At no time did the prosecutor or the gang expert suggest that appellant's necklace had any significance to the exercise of a bona fide religion. Its established relevance in criminal trials is to criminal street gangs and their "worship" of "Santa Muerte" or "Saint Death" who has been described as "the drug trafficker's god" and is "used as a protector of drug traffickers.... "