When you’ve been accused of committing a crime, you have a right to due process under the law. Due process typically includes a trial by a jury of your peers, and these peers go through an extensive screening process to ensure they are not biased or operating under any ulterior motives that would swing their decisions one way or another. A good jury has no personal connections to the defendant, the alleged victims or the crime that is being discussed.
Having a biased juror can throw an entire case into question. If someone on the jury is determining a person’s guilt or innocence based on personal feelings rather than the evidence presented in court, the whole decision made by the jury could be called into question, and in some cases, defendants may be entitled to a new trial with a fair jury.
A recent case in the New Jersey appeals court drove home how important it is to maintain an unbiased jury. The appellate judges ruled that a trial judge was wrong to allow a white juror with clearly-stated racial prejudices to sit on the jury for two African-American men. The woman had said that she would be concerned and nervous when she came across black men in her neighborhood; but despite this, she was still allowed to remain on the jury.
What Happened in the Case?
Two African-American defendants were convicted on charges of armed robbery and carjacking, and both are serving out sentences in excess of 23 years. The two men were accused of forcing a woman out of her car at gunpoint in December of 2011, and then fleeing, first in the stolen vehicle, then on foot from the police. The two men were arrested shortly after they stole the vehicle.
At their trial, the jury deliberated for two days before convicting both men. On the second day of the process, Juror 4 told two other jurors that she had seen two African-American men in the park near her house as she left for the courthouse. She was “concerned and nervous” because the men “certainly don’t live here, and they don’t hang around here,” she said. The other jurors encouraged her to report this to a sheriff’s officer, who then told the judge.
The appellate judges stated that because Juror 4 automatically “inferred a sinister conspiratorial purpose from a facially innocuous event, based solely on the race of the participants, she revealed a deeply rooted, latent racial bias that required her removal from the jury.” In failing to remove her when he found out about her statement, the judge violated the men's rights to a fair trial. Both men will receive a new trial.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our New Jersey appeal attorneys represent anyone whose rights have been violated at trial or in a criminal case. For more information on the appeals process, contact an HCK lawyer today.