Much of our nation’s bedrock protections for criminal defendants facing trial go all the way back to our original Bill of Rights, adopted as part of the Constitution in 1789. The Sixth Amendment guarantees every US resident that, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.” Later Supreme Court decisions have held that the right to “an impartial jury” in criminal trials means that prosecutors cannot use illegal reasons for selecting the jury that determines whether the court should convict you or not. Thus, if prosecutors did commit certain types of errors in selecting who was on your jury, you may be able to successfully appeal your criminal conviction.
How Juries Are Selected
In attempting to sit an impartial jury, a judge presiding over jury selection will allow both the prosecutors and defense attorney to question jurors either directly or through questions submitted to the judge to determine whether potential jurors can be impartial to both sides. This is called “voir dire” examination, and both the prosecutors and defense attorneys can object to potential jurors using either a peremptory challenge or for cause.
With a peremptory challenge, the attorneys do not have to provide an exact reason why they do not want a juror on the criminal trial, and so simply believing that a potential juror might be hostile to their case is sufficient, assuming that there is not actually an illegal reason for excluding the juror (discussed below). Each side gets a certain number of peremptory challenges; in federal felony criminal trials, the prosecutors get six peremptory challenges and the defense gets 10 (this number rises to 20 challenges for both sides in death penalty cases).
Each side can ask for an unlimited number of excusals for cause, which can include where a juror indicates that he or she cannot render an impartial decision, e.g. he has already made his mind up about the defendant’s guilt.
Reversible Error in Jury Selection
In many criminal trials, prosecutors have used illegal reasons for excluding jurors, leading to a jury that violates the defendant’s constitutional rights. Prosecutors may not use a potential juror’s race or gender in excluding that juror. Thus, if you were convicted by a jury that was selected based on the prosecutor’s having excluded potential jurors from the jury pool based on their race or their gender, then you can appeal your conviction based on the fact that you were denied your constitutional rights to an impartial jury.
Prosecutors of course know this, and so they will avoid stating directly that they are excluding a juror based on his or her race or gender. The challenge then in proving jury selection error on appeal lies in showing that the prosecutors illegitimately used a peremptory challenge or a challenge for cause when the real reason was the potential juror’s race or gender.
An experienced appeals attorney, however, can scour the record as well as other documents – including notes kept by prosecutors – to determine whether you were denied your right to an impartial jury at trial, and raise this argument on your appeal in pursuit of a reversal of your criminal conviction. Speak to an appeals attorney to assess whether there might be grounds for reversible error in your criminal conviction.
Legal Assistance With Criminal Appeals
If you received an unfair outcome in a state or federal criminal case, you may be eligible to appeal your verdict and/or your sentence. The Law Office of Corey Evan Parker is focused on the civil and criminal appeals process in Washington and California. If you are considering filing a criminal or civil appeal, feel free to contact Mr. Parker today for a no obligation 30 minute consultation.