Apr 22

final-jur-e headline

State High Court Ignores Death Row Defendant’s Ripe Claim of Racially Biased Juror — SCOTUS Takes a Pass Also

In Love v. Texas, the Black defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death.  During jury selection, Mr. Love had expended all his allotted peremptory strikes before “Juror 1136B” was questioned.  During questioning, that juror explained he understood ”[n]on-white” races to be the “more violent races.” He claimed he had seen statistics to this effect in “[n]ews reports and criminology classes” he had taken.  He stated that this answer was based on these statistics, rather than his “personal feelings towards one race or another.” He also indicated he did not “think because of somebody's race they're more likely to commit a crime than somebody of a different race.” He told defense counsel that he would not feel differently about Love “because he's an African American.”  Love's counsel moved to exclude the prospective juror for cause based on the stated beliefs about non-whites’ propensity to be violent.  Counsel argued that, under Texas law, the first issue the jury would have to decide at sentencing was “whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society.”  Counsel explained, “leaving this man on the jury would be an invitation to leaving someone on there that might make a decision … that would ultimately lead to a sentence of death on his preconceived notions and beliefs that have to do with the race of the defendant.”  The trial judge denied the motion to strike for cause without explanation.  The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas denied Mr. Love’s claim of a biased jury because the trial judge had previously granted Love two extra peremptory challenges, which he had already used by the time the prospective juror at issue was called up. The U.S. Supreme Court denied Mr. Love’s petition for certiorari.  Justice Elena Kagan wrote a stern dissent (there was no majority statement) stating, in part:

In this case, no court has meaningfully reviewed Love's allegations of racial bias in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Instead, the Court of Criminal Appeals “assume[d]” that the juror at issue was biased, but concluded that allowing him to sit on the jury was harmless.  That is an inherently contradictory determination. If the juror were indeed biased, then because he sat on the jury, Love's conviction and sentence “would have to be overturned.” (citations omitted)


Over time, we have endeavored to cleanse our jury system of racial bias. One of the most important mechanisms for doing so, questioning during voir dire, was properly employed here to identify a potential claim of bias. Safeguards like this, however, are futile if courts do not even consider claims of racial bias that litigants bring forward. The task of reviewing the record to determine whether a juror was fair and impartial is challenging, but it must be undertaken, especially when a person's life is on the line. I would ensure that Love's claim is heard by the Court of Criminal Appeals, rather than leave these questions unanswered.

Basketball Hall of Famer Scolded and Fined for Missing Jury Duty

The New York Post reports NBA star Ray Allen appeared in a Miami courtroom last month, where he was reprimanded by a judge after he failed to show up for jury duty.  U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke reportedly called out the two-time NBA champion for disrespecting the court and his fellow jurors in a deadly carjacking trial.  In her show cause order, the judge stated, “Through his actions in failing to appear for jury duty, Mr. Allen appears to not appreciate or understand the importance of jury service. The right to a trial by jury is sacrosanct.  However, the right to trial by jury can only be preserved if those who are chosen to serve on a jury actually fulfill their obligation to serve.”  She ordered Allen — who attended the hearing with his wife and kids — to donate $1,000 to a charity of his choice.  Allen, who now coaches boys’ basketball at Miami’s Gulliver Prep, plans make his court-ordered donation to diabetes research.

Parkland School Shooter Penalty Trial Could Last 4 to 6 Months. Impact on Jurors?

Nikolas Cruz confessed to the murder of 17 persons and the injuring of 17 others in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.   Jury selection in State v. Cruz began in the last week of March.  CBS 12 News in Florida now reports that the penalty phase of the case against Mr. Cruz could take from four to six months.  The duration could be affected by how trial judge Elizabeth Scherer resolves a dispute between the prosecution and defense as to whether the jury should be transported to view the scene of the killings.

Prospective Juror Seeks Excusal Citing Need to Be with Her Sugar Daddy

Jury selection in the above-described case was not without its jaw-dropping moments. This video says it all.

Nevada Supreme Court Clarifies Requirements in Capital-Sentencing Deliberations

In Barlow v. State of Nevada, the defendant was sentenced to death.  During the penalty phase of the trial, the court prohibited Mr. Barlow’s attorney from arguing that if a single juror determines there are mitigating circumstances sufficient to outweigh the aggravating circumstances, the death penalty is no longer an option, and the jury must then consider imposing a sentence other than death.  The Nevada Supreme Court sustained Mr. Barlow’s claim of error and clarified, “when a jury cannot reach a unanimous decision as to the weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, the jury cannot impose a death sentence but must consider the other sentences that may be imposed. The jury is hung in the penalty phase of a capital trial only when it cannot unanimously agree on the sentence to be imposed.” The panel concluded the district court abused its discretion by prohibiting Barlow's argument saying,  “This error, in conjunction with others that occurred in the penalty phase, worked cumulatively to deprive Barlow of a fair penalty hearing.”