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How Batson v. U.S. and Subsequent Supreme Court Decisions Impact Massachusetts Jury Selection

In a Massachusetts criminal case, the jury consists of either six of twelve jurors. After a trial, a defendant cannot be convicted unless all jurors unanimously agree that the defendant was guilty of the crimes charged. Thus, if even one juror believes that a defendant is not guilty, the court will declare a mistrial, and the defendant will avoid a conviction. For this reason, the jury selection process in Massachusetts criminal trial is critical.

The history of jury-selection practices across the United States is an unfortunate one. While the jury-selection process allows prosecutors and defendants to strike jurors from the panel who they believe will favor the other side through what is called a peremptory strike, there are limits on the exercise of these peremptory strikes.

One of the most fundamental rights any criminal defendant enjoys is the right to be tried by a jury of their peers. This right, embodied in the Sixth Amendment, requires that a jury be drawn from a fair cross-section of society. Thus, in the case, Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the prosecution cannot use their peremptory strikes to eliminate jurors based on their race. Since then, the Court has considered numerous other cases involving race-based selection techniques, most recently with the case Flowers v. Mississippi.

In the Flowers case, the defendant, a black man, was standing trial for the murder of four furniture employees; three of which were white. The defendant had previously been on trial for the same crime five times. Throughout the previous trials, the prosecution had attempted to use race-based jury selection techniques to eliminate black jurors.

This time, the prosecution was a bit more careful not to appear obvious in its attempts to secure a mostly-white jury. However, the Court found that the prosecution engaged in the same type of illicit behavior as in the previous cases. Specifically, the court noted that the five potential black jurors were asked 145 questions while the 12 potential white jurors were asked only 11 questions. The Court explained this was an attempt to elicit information that may form the basis for a proper objection. The Court also noted that the prosecution cited specific reasons to strike black jurors that did not result in the white jurors who exhibited the same characteristic being struck. For these reasons, the Court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Have You Been Arrested for a Massachusetts Crime?

Anyone with experience in the criminal justice system knows that race still plays an unfortunate role in the doling out of justice. If you or have been arrested and charged with a serious Massachusetts crime, it is important that you reach out to discuss your case with an experienced Boston criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy is a dedicated criminal defense attorney with extensive experience defending individuals who are charged with all serious crimes, including Massachusetts drug crimes, gun offenses, as well as violent crimes. To learn more about how Attorney Murphy can help you defend your freedom, call 617-367-0450 to schedule a free consultation today.