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Friday, August 7, 2020

Biased Jury Selection Results in New Trial

biased jury selection

Criminal trials typically require 12 people to serve on the jury who are not biased in regard to the defendant or the alleged crime. The attorneys representing both sides are able to ask questions to determine whether the jurors should be allowed to serve. A recent decision by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined that the jury selection for a murder case was not conducted appropriately. The biased jury selection has resulted in a new trial for the defendant, twenty years later.

Selecting a Jury


The process of establishing a jury starts with a pool of eligible people who are brought into the jury box and questioned. The judge usually makes a brief statement explaining the case to be tried and inquiring whether there is any reason the potential jurors cannot serve. Then the judge or the lawyers ask the potential jurors questions as to whether they have any knowledge of the case or have had specific experiences that might cause them to be biased or unfair.

A potential juror can be dismissed for cause if either lawyer believes there is information that suggests a juror is prejudiced about the case. Each lawyer may request the dismissal of an unlimited number of jurors for cause. Each request will be considered by the judge and may or may not be allowed.

In addition, each lawyer has a specific number of peremptory challenges available. These challenges permit a lawyer to excuse a potential juror without stating a cause. In effect, they allow a lawyer to dismiss a juror because of a belief that the juror will not serve the best interests of the client. Peremptory challenges cannot be used to discriminate on the basis of race or sex.

The Walker Case


Marvin Pete Walker was convicted of murder, assault, robbery, and other charges and sentenced to death in 1980 in a California court. He filed a number of appeals. The death sentence was dropped but Walker continued to appeal his conviction based on issues surrounding the trial itself.

His most recent appeal included the following claims: (1) that the prosecutor impermissibly struck all three black potential jurors from the pool using peremptory challenges, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); and (2) that Walker was convicted of special-circumstance murder based on a deficient jury instruction that denied him due process. The district court granted a certificate of appealability only on the Batson claim.

Batson


The Batson claim stems from the case of Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The US Supreme Court has held that peremptory challenges cannot be used to systematically strike prospective jurors from the panel on the basis of race.

In Batson, the court outlined a three-step approach for analyzing challenges to peremptory strikes. First, the party objecting to the strike must present facts that "raise an inference" that the strike was racially based. Second, the party who made the strike must present a "neutral explanation." Finally, the trial court must determine whether the party objecting to the strike has established "purposeful discrimination."

Prosecutor’s Peremptory Challenges


In Walker’s case, the prosecutor struck all 3 black potential jurors from a pool of approximately 155 individuals by using peremptory challenges. The reasons for doing so do not hold up under further scrutiny. If even a single prospective juror was struck for a discriminatory purpose, that suffices for a Batson violation.

The court determined that the prosecutor’s reasons for the juror strikes were unreasonable, irrelevant, demonstrably false, or not equally applied to non-black members allowed to serve on the jury. Two of the black jurors were struck for having anti-death penalty views, even though they did not. In fact, there were non-black individuals selected to serve on the jury who had stronger reservations about the death penalty.

In addition, the prosecutor asked one black potential juror leading questions designed specifically to strike that individual and asked a non-black potential juror leading questions designed specifically to keep that individual on the jury. Another potential juror was struck for being anti-police after that individual explained that he had several family members in law enforcement, including one who was killed in the line of duty, a fact that should have made him a more attractive jury candidate for the prosecution.

New Trial


The biased jury selection resulted in Walker being granted a new trial. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit determined on July 31, 2020, that Walker had been deprived of his constitutional rights and that the previous California courts’ acceptance of the prosecutor’s reasons for dismissing the black jurors lacked justification.

Orange County Criminal Defense Lawyer


Attorney Ronald Brower can help you or a loved one achieve a favorable legal outcome in California. Please contact our office today to learn how we can advocate for you and your family during these challenging times.

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