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Tenth Circuit: Parties are permitted to strike jurors for their drug reform views

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Earlier this month, the Tenth Circuit gave the green light for parties to strike jurors for their drug reform views in criminal cases. U.S. v. Judah Prince, ___ F.3d ___ (10th Cir., Aug. 5, 2011).

Prince was convicted for marijuana cultivation and making false statements to a firearms dealer.

Among his appellate arguments, Prince contended that the Constitution bars the prosecution from "peremptorily striking prospective jurors because of their views."

Prince reasons that Supreme Court protections against peremptories merely on general objections to the death penalty in capital cases do not extend to protection over political and civil liberties beliefs in non-capital cases. Prince concludes: “It is therefore apparent that the … restriction [against striking for political and civil liberties views] applies only to the sentencing phase of a trial and not the guilt phase.” 

Prince cites both Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968), and Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38 (1980), for the proposition that prospective jurors cannot be excluded solely on the basis their beliefs. Both of these cases, however, “dealt with the special context of capital  sentencing, where the range of jury discretion necessarily gave rise to far greater concern over the possible effects of an ‘imbalanced’ jury.” Lockhart v. McCree, 476 U.S. 162, 182 (1986).

In Witherspoon, the Supreme Court held narrowly that the death penalty cannot be imposed by a jury where prospective jurors were excluded “simply because they voiced general objections to the death penalty or expressed conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction.” 391 U.S. at 522. The Court has never extended this doctrine beyond the death penalty context. Moreover, the Court expressly rejected the notion that “the exclusion of jurors opposed to capital punishment results in an unrepresentative jury on the issue of guilt or substantially increases the risk of conviction.” Id. at 518. It is therefore apparent that the Witherspoon restriction applies only to the sentencing phase of a trial–and not the guilt phase.

The story was the same in Adams v. Texas, where the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that required jurors in capital cases to swear that the prospect of a mandatory death penalty “would not affect their deliberations on any issue of fact.” 448 U.S. at 42. The Court reasoned that “a juror may not be challenged for cause based on his views about capital punishment unless those views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties . . . .” Id. at 45. Since these cases, the Supreme Court has squarely limited the doctrine set forth in Witherspoon and Adams by expressly rejecting the “suggestion that [the two cases] have broad applicability outside the special context of capital sentencing . . . .” Lockhart, 476 U.S. at 183. Accordingly, they are inapplicable here. In the Batson context, death is indeed different. For these reasons, Prince’s Batson challenge is meritless.


ADDENDUM: Thanks to the listserv member who brought Prince to my attention.