Victim Services Coalition

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Oct

03

One Overturned, One Conviction to Stand: Both on Judges Decisions


It is always of interest when a US Supreme Court case decision involves your own state case. The decision for Illinois was the recent case of Rivera v. Illinois. The decision from the Supreme Court was the issue of a defendant not being allowed to use a peremptory challenge during jury selection (or in lawyers language – voir dire). The trial court in Rivera felt the defense was using the peremptory challenge improperly under the Batson case doctrine and did not allow the defense to excuse a juror based on this reasoning. The Illinois Appellate Court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction. But both courts admitted the trial court was incorrect in its reasoning in not allowing the peremptory challenge.read more information about peremptory challenge by visiting http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/01/jn.aspx

After getting his case to the US Supreme Court, Mr. Rivera did not fair any better. While the court did find the trial court judge made a “good-faith error”, automatic reversal of a conviction was not warranted.

This case can be contrasted with another recently decided criminal case from the Illinois Appellate Court, People v. Anderson. In that case the trial court failed to ask the jury questions as required by the Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b), amended just prior to the trial in this case. In this case the court reversed a criminal conviction based on the trial courts failure to follow this Rule.read more information on Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b) by clicking here

One Overturned, One Conviction to Stand: Both on Judges Decisions

On their faces it seems the two cases do not contradict one another. The Anderson case had a rule that was not followed, while the Rivera case was a judges ‘gut’ feeling a violation was occurring.

The issue decided by the Court in the Rivera case was “provided all the jurors seated in a criminal case are qualified and unbiased, the Due Process Clause does not require automatic reversal…” Since the defendant did not get to use his peremptory challenge, there is still a question of whether another juror would have decided differently. That will be an answer we will never know.

As for the Anderson case, the Appellate court found the trial court did not follow the amended rule close enough in its wording, thus not satisfying the rule and previous case law. But, no language was given that the jury was not qualified or biased. So, was there really any harm? Or could this have just been an error that will have no real consequences? Why wasn’t the judges “good faith” error of not allowing Rivera to use a peremptory challenge enough to overturn his verdict?

The US Supreme Court answered the last question with the fact that peremptory challenges are state-provided and there is no constitutional right to peremptory challenges. Thus, a mere error of state law is not a denial of due process under Federal law.

What will happen in future state cases in light of these decisions? Most likely not much. The courts will still have to balance the facts and the circumstances of any Batson motion that may be raised during the jury selection. As for applicable Rule – well reading it would be the best thing to make sure it has been followed. The question will be how close the judges wording follows the Rule.

Jury verdicts are difficult to overturn in many cases. I find it interesting the one was overturned with the finding the jury was qualified and unbiased, and the other never addresses the issue of the jury qualifications or bias or proof that if the judge had read the Rule properly the same jurors would not have been chosen.Click here to read a good post on Beard Debacle Litigation

More to follow….as the law is continually evolving.

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