The law applies equally. That being said, we are in the Bible Belt here in Arkansas and, while the law makes no exception for religion, sometimes juries do.
Capital murder (which, in Arkansas, is murder with aggravating circumstances that are outlined in the statute) has two possible penalties: death, or life without possibility of parole. It is the prosecutor's choice whether to waive the death penalty. If it is waived, then life without parole is the only possibility. Neither first degree murder or second degree murder even have the death penalty as a possibility.
So the only possibility for the death penalty in Arkansas is to be charged with capital murder. Even if one is charged with capital murder, death is not appropriate if the jury finds that mitigating circumstances (that would push for life) outweigh aggravating circumstances (that would push for death).
A person's religion is neither a mitigator or an aggravator, whether Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, whatever. That being said, if a person's religious beliefs somehow caused him to not think straight (for example, a person who thinks God wants all abortion doctors killed), if even a single juror is convinced that person's beliefs mean that the person is worthy of punishment but not death, that one juror will keep the death penalty from being imposed, because it requires a unanimous jury to impose the death penalty.
In other words, while we are supposedly all equal under the law, a defendant's fate is ultimately in the hands of twelve people with their own beliefs and personal prejudices. So a defendant's religious beliefs might be enough to convince a juror that this is a good person who did one bad thing and doesn't deserve the death penalty, versus a bad person with a lifetime of doing bad things who they believe does deserve death.
Good luck with your essay!
No attorney-client relationship is established with this answer. It is not to be considered legal advice, but is merely given to point you in the right direction and give you a general answer as to the law regarding the question you have asked.
There is no respecting of religions in regard to murder charges in any American jurisdiction. Although it is hard to imagine a realistic scenario, if a person were part of a religion whose tenets included some form of murder, there may be a partial defense available at trial (and mitigation available at sentencing), however, I am not aware of any case in which that premise has been applied. Good luck on your essay.
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Have you considered the manner in which Sharia Law has been making its way into the legal system? This fits squarely in with your essay. Muslim Fundamentalist, Christian Fundamentalist... every religion has fundamentalists.
"The Florida State legislature has failed to pass S.B. 1360, a law preventing Muslim Sharia Law from being enforced by judges.
And, in light of that failure, a Tampa judge ruled that two opposing Muslim parties have their dispute settled under Islamic sharia law ‘pursuant to the Quran’ in spite of the fact that one Muslim group did not want to do this…and the Florida Appellate Court denied the petition to appeal the judge’s ruling."
Here is a timeline of Sharia Law: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sadakat-kadri/sharia-history-1400-years_b_1556661.html.
"In June 2009, a divorced Muslim woman (unnamed by the court), who was raped and assaulted by her husband, requested a restraining order from a New Jersey family court. The presiding judge denied the woman's request and stated that "the court believes that the husband was operating under his belief (Islamic sharia) that his demand to have sex whenever he so desired was not prohibited." Remarkably, the husband's imam testified at the trial to affirm that under the sharia, a wife is required to comply with her husband's sexual demands."
The article above also discusses Catholic Cannon law and Jewish law.
I hope that was sufficient food for thought.
http://www.defendme.net | The response given is not intended to create, nor does it create an ongoing duty to respond to questions. The response does not form an attorney-client relationship, nor is it intended to be anything other than the educated opinion of the author. It should not be relied upon as legal advice. The response given is based upon the limited facts provided by the person asking the question. To the extent additional or different facts exist, the response might possibly change. Attorney is licensed to practice law only in the State of Florida. Responses are based solely on Florida law unless stated otherwise.