Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Says Dismissal of Prospective Juror Who Said System is Rigged Against Some Individuals Did Not Prejudice Defendant’s Rights

In addition to the effective assistance of counsel from a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, a person who is criminally accused also has the right to a fair and impartial jury in a criminal proceeding. This sounds like an easy enough proposition, but there can be many issues that go into the determination of exactly what constitutes “fair” and “impartial” jurors in a given case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent criminal case considered on direct review by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the defendant was charged with possession of an illegal substance with intent to distribute. During voir dire, a prospective juror stated that she believed that “the system is rigged” against individuals of the defendant’s general age, gender, and race. That juror was excused for cause by the trial court judge, and the case was tried to a jury that did not include that particular juror.

After being convicted, the defendant sought appellate review of his case, arguing that the trial court judge had abused his discretion in dismissing the prospective juror who had expressed her opinion about the legal system being “rigged.” The supreme judicial court granted an application for direct appellate review.

Decision of the Court

The appellate court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. While acknowledging that the voir dire of the juror in question was incomplete, the court was of the opinion that the defendant had not shown that dismissal of the prospective juror for cause resulted in prejudice to him.

The defendant maintained that neither the would-be juror’s work experience (she worked with low income youth in a school setting, including teenagers convicted of drug crimes) nor her belief that the criminal justice system was unfair to those from certain backgrounds rendered her unfit to serve on the jury. The appellate court agreed with the defendant that a juror’s beliefs about how the criminal justice system treats a particular group should not, on its own, disqualify a juror from service. However, the court noted that, in this particular case, the trial judge did ask the juror several questions about the issue. Even though judge did not ask her every question that, in hindsight, he should have asked her, the defendant had not proven that he was prejudiced as a result.

It is interesting to note that at least six different non-profit organizations groups, two retired judges, and two law professors filed amicus curie briefs in this case, suggesting that the defendant may intend to seek further review from the United States Supreme Court. However, that Court only hears a limited number of cases per year, so the opinion of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts will likely be the final word on the matter.

Talk to a Cape Cod Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a felony offense, you need the most effective legal representation possible. At the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, our experienced criminal defense attorneys work hard to protect the legal rights of the accused. For a consultation regarding the charges pending against you, call us now at 888-262-6664. In the meantime, please do not speak to police or anyone else about your case. Any statements you make may be used to convict you in court later on, so please exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

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