March 2018 Church & State - March 2018

Texas Judge Interrupts Jury To Say God Told Him Defendant Was Innocent

  Liz Hayes

A Texas judge’s conduct is being scrutinized after he intervened in jury deliberations on Jan. 12 to tell jurors God had told him the defendant was not guilty.

State District Judge Jack Robison was overseeing the trial of a woman accused of trafficking a teenage girl for sex when he twice told the jury of his message from God that the woman wasn’t guilty.

“He said he had thought it over and prayed on it and that God told him that he had to say this,” jury foreman Mark A. House told the San Antonio Express-News. “He was obviously troubled, very serious about it. It completely took everyone by surprise. We didn’t say anything.”

House told the newspaper the judge’s comment came after the jury had reached its decision that the defendant was guilty of the charge of continuous trafficking of a person, but not guilty of the sale or purchase of a child.

“There were jurors who were physically sick, crying and distraught” after Robison’s declaration, House said.

The jury stuck with its verdict despite Robison’s intervention. The judge then recused himself from participating in the sentencing phase, which continued despite the defense attorney’s request for a mistrial due to Robison’s remarks. The jury sentenced the woman to the mandatory minimum 25 years in prison.

“It’s probably the most unusual thing I’ve experienced in 20 years as an attorney,” said defense attorney Sylvia A. Cavazos. “Judge Robison apologized in open court to the jury, saying something to the effect that ‘I apologize but, if God tells me to do something, I have to do it.’”

House said he filed a complaint with the State Commission on Judicial Conduct and believed other jurors planned to do the same. A commission representative told the Austin American-Statesman it could not comment on whether an investigation was pending.

“If a judge believes that God has told him to improperly interfere with the jury, and he believes he must comply with that, then the judge should resign from office,” Jeffrey M. Shaman, professor of law emeritus at DePaul University, told the Express-News.

“Judges are charged with the task of upholding secular laws; they have no religious duties,” Rob Boston, AU’s communications director, wrote on AU’s “Wall of Separation” blog. “It doesn’t matter what Robison thought God was telling him. The case was in the hands of the jury, and he had no right to interfere in their deliberations – even if he believed his actions were divinely inspired.”

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