When a person is facing criminal charges and his or her case goes to a jury trial, there is a long list of rules that Connecticut courts must follow to ensure the trial is handled properly. Such rules address not only a suspect’s rights but also the process of the trial itself, including collecting a pool of potential jurors and selecting the appropriate number of jurors to decide the case. Jury selection is an important part of the criminal justice process, but at least one Connecticut judge believes that the current rules that govern jury selection should be amended to be more inclusive.
During jury selection, attorneys for both sides—prosecutors and defendants in a criminal trial—have a tool at their disposal known as a peremptory challenge. A peremptory challenge gives the attorney the ability to strike a prospective juror without a detailed explanation. Compared to a challenge for cause, peremptory challenges may be limited by jurisdictional rules. While a peremptory challenge does not require a justification, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that such challenges could not be used to strike a prospective juror solely on the basis of race.
Challenge Removes Black Prospective Juror
A few weeks ago, a Connecticut appeals court heard the appeal of a murder case that was originally decided in 2013. During jury selection for the original trial, the state used a peremptory challenge to strike a potential juror who expressed his fear of police officers, talked about family members who have gone to prison, and admitted a distrust of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The trial continued, and the defendant was found guilty and sentenced to 70 years in prison.
The defense team appealed on several grounds, including that the state had improperly used its peremptory challenge. The dismissed prospective juror was an African-American man who the defense lawyers claim was stricken on account of his race. The appellate court disagreed, holding that the state’s use of the peremptory challenge was not inappropriate under the current rules and did not violate the Supreme Court’s prohibition on using race as grounds for the challenge.
Concurrent Opinion and Suggestions
One of the appellate judges on the case decided to write a separate concurrent opinion on the matter. He agreed with the court’s finding that the peremptory challenge did not violate existing rules, but he expressed concern with how the rules could potentially be applied. He claimed that individuals from “suspect classes”—groups of people that have suffered substantial discrimination—are being disproportionately excluded from jury service.
The judge’s opinion posed several hypothetical situations, including a female prospective juror who believes that police do not always handle sexual assault victims with appropriate sensitivity and dignity. Should the state be able to keep her from serving on a juror in a sexual assault case? Another hypothetical example included a prospective juror of Japanese descent whose family suffered by being interred by the federal government during World War II. Should he kept from jury service in a case involving a federal employee?
To address this concern, the judge suggested that trial judges should have the discretion to override a peremptory challenge when the prospective juror in question is a member of a “suspect class.” The trial judge could allow the prospective juror to remain on the panel upon a determination that the juror will be fair. Exactly how much discretion and what constitutes a “suspect class” would need to be determined before such a plan could be put into effect.
Facing Criminal Charges?
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