Figures from the U.S. Census indicate that there are more Latinos living in the state of California than Whites, about 14.99 million compared to 14.92 million. With that in mind, one would think that if a Latino is charged with a crime that goes to trial, there is a good chance that there would be at least a few people on the jury of a similar ethnic background. Or it least it would stand to reason. Unfortunately for some, that hasn’t always been the case.
At the end of last week, it was announced that for the first time in over a decade and a half, the California Supreme Court determined that racial bias played a part in jury selection, resulting in three (3) decisions being overturned, The Los Angeles Times reports. This is a big deal considering that two cases were for attempted murder. The decision, written by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, was unanimous and is likely to send a message that racially motivated juror exclusions will not be tolerated.
To be fair, whether or not the defendants committed the crimes, what they were charged with should pale in comparison to the importance of every citizen having the right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of their peers. Prosecutors who select jury members based on race, because they believe doing so will garner a favorable verdict, is reminiscent of times in America that one would hope to be long behind us.
“It is not only litigants who are harmed when the right to trial by impartial jury is abridged,” Cuéllar wrote Thursday. “Taints of discriminatory bias in jury selection — actual or perceived — erode confidence in the adjudicative process, undermining the public’s trust in courts.”
Last weeks, decision was the second time in 25 years where a conviction was overturned due to people being excluded from a sitting on a jury for inappropriate reasons, according to the article. Legal analysts believe that the Supreme Court’s decision is the direct result of Governor Jerry Brown appointing three liberal leaning judges. Including Justice Cuéllar, Goodwin Liu and Leondra Kruger.
“There is something of a sea change in how the court is dealing with the constitutional rights of the accused in criminal cases,” said A.J. Kutchins, a senior deputy state public defender, who represented the defense in the Kern County. She called Thursday’s decision “a real watershed.”
A Decision With A Rippling Effect
Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University emeritus law professor, says that the decision is “a profound change,” affecting every criminal trial, the article reports. If jury selection rules are violated, and a judge does not spot the misstep, it will lead to more overturned convictions.
Please contact the Law Office of Ronald G. Brower should you have any questions regarding this California Supreme Court decision.