The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to a fair trial with an unbiased jury of their peers. So if one of those jurors is inherently biased due to a deep-seated racist mindset, does that mean the defendant’s rights have been violated? The Supreme Court believes a racist juror can prevent someone from having a fair trial do most criminal lawyers.
The Racist Juror
The issue of how a racist juror will affect someone’s right to a fair trial was brought up recently in the case Tharpe vs. Sellers. The issue started when Keith Tharpe, an African American, was tried for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law. Tharpe was found guilty and sentenced to death, but years later, his attorneys obtained a signed affidavit where Barney Gattie, one of the jurors, uses the “n word” and actually states that after “studying the Bible, I have wondered if black people even have souls.” In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that Gattie’s viewpoints made him unable to deliver a fair verdict.
Protecting Your Right to a Fair Trial
This case provides a very dramatic example of the importance of selecting a top criminal defense attorney, whether you are planning to arrange a plea bargain or go to trial. One of the most important steps of a trial is the jury selection process and this is where Tharpe’s case first went wrong. If his lawyers recognized that Gattie would be a racist juror, they could have rejected him and secured Tharpe’s right to a fair trial. This became an even greater problem as the case was a capital crime and the jury had to vote on whether the death penalty was or was not warranted. As it stands, Tharpe will likely get a new trial where even if he is found guilty, the jury will once again be asked to vote on the death penalty -meaning this Supreme Court ruling could save Tharpe’s life.
Eliminating Racist and Otherwise Biased Jurors
Any juror who shows bigotry based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation should be disqualified for cause. The bigotry doesn’t have to be against the defendant because hatred toward anyone associated with the trial can produce an unfair result.
With stakes like this, it’s easy to see how important the right criminal attorney can be to your case. If you have any questions or would like to schedule a free initial consultation to discuss your right to a fair trial, please call Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050 or (858) 486-3024.
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