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Can Arizona Prosecutors Use Race as a Factor When Selecting Members of a Jury?

In an Arizona criminal trial that is tried before a jury, a defendant cannot be found guilty unless all jurors agree unanimously. Thus, the process of jury selection is a crucial part of the criminal process. In essence, a defendant only needs to convince a single person on the jury that he is not guilty to secure a mistrial and avoid a conviction. Of course, in the event of a mistrial, the prosecution could re-prosecute the case; however, that won’t always be the case.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion in a case discussing the extent to which the prosecution can use race as a basis for selecting jurors. Ultimately, the Court reversed the defendant’s murder conviction, finding that the prosecution was motivated in substantial part by race when it struck one particular juror.

According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with the murder of four furniture store employees. The defendant is black, and three of the four victims were white. This case was the sixth time the defendant was charged for the murders; the previous five having been reversed or resulting in a mistrial based on prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, in each case, the prosecution impermissibly struck black jurors from the jury panel.

In this case, the prosecution moved to strike five potential jurors. Four of those potential jurors were black. After selection concluded, only one black juror was seated on the jury. The jury convicted the defendant and sentenced him to death. The defendant appealed, arguing that the prosecution failed to establish that it struck the potential black jurors for a reason other than their race.

In a lengthy opinion, the Court concluded that the prosecution failed to proffer a race-neutral reason for their strikes, and reversed the defendant’s conviction. The Court relied on several factors, including:

  • The history of the previous five cases, in each of which the prosecution based their strikes on the race of potential jurors;
  • The prosecution questioned black potential jurors more than white potential jurors in that 145 questions were asked of the five black prospective jurors, and 12 questions were asked of the eleven prospective white jurors.
  • Black potential jurors who were struck by the prosecution shared characteristics with white potential jurors who were allowed onto the jury.

Taking all these facts into account, the Court concluded that the prosecution could not show that race was not a factor in selecting jurors in the defendant’s trial. As a result, the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a serious Arizona crime, the experienced Tempe criminal defense attorney James E. Novak can help. Attorney Novak is a veteran criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his career to protecting the rights of those charged with serious Arizona felony offenses, such as sex offenses, robberies, and assaults. To learn more about how Attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499.

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