Massachusetts Court Sides with Defendant in Assault Case, Ruling that Lower Court Should Have Allowed Him to Strike Jury Member

In a recent case before an appeals court in Massachusetts, the defendant challenged the lower court’s refusal to allow him to keep a jury member from serving on the jury during his trial. On appeal, the higher court reviewed the lower court’s record considered the defendant’s argument, and ultimately sided with the defendant, setting aside his guilty verdict.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant in this case was charged with mayhem, assault and battery, and violation of constitutional rights with bodily injury after he got into a fight with a security guard at a local restaurant. According to witnesses, the defendant attacked the security guard, using racial slurs as he assaulted the man.

The case went to trial, and a jury found the defendant guilty. On appeal, the defendant argued that the trial court’s judge should not have refused to strike one of the jurors that was part of the pre-trial jury selection.

The Decision

The higher court therefore had to decide whether it was reasonable for the judge overseeing the trial to refuse to strike the juror in question. The juror was a Black male, and the defendant asked to strike the juror, meaning he did not want the man to be part of the group of 12 jurors that would hear the case. The judge asked the reason for the defendant’s request, and counsel for the defendant explained that the juror’s mother worked for the police department and that he might therefore be biased against the defendant.

The judge decided this was not a good enough reason to strike the juror and denied the defendant’s request. Later, though, the judge again addressed this decision and stated that he suspected the real reason for the defendant’s request to strike was race, not the profession of the juror’s mother.

On appeal, the higher court struggled to reconcile the judge’s acceptance of defense counsel’s reasoning, that the juror’s mother was the reason for the request to strike, with the judge’s later statement that the strike was based on race. If the judge had, in fact, decided that the strike was based on race, he needed to also conclude that the reasons given during the request to strike were ingenuine. Here, because it was clear that the defense counsel’s original request was genuine, the request to strike should have been permitted.

The court, therefore, vacated the defendant’s judgment, setting aside his guilty verdict.

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