October 23, 2012

Cases of Interest to the School Community 2002–2003 Term

Jury Selection

Miller-El v. Cockrell, Dir., Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, No. 01-7662

When selecting a jury in a criminal trial, attorneys for both the state and the defendant will question the potential jurors in the jury pool. They then can "strike" (remove) any number of them "for cause"—that is, for a good legal reason, such as evidence that the juror would be biased against their client. Moreover, in many states, including Texas, an attorney also has the opportunity to strike a fixed number of additional jurors without having to provide any reason for doing so. The Constitution places some limitations on these so-called peremptory strikes, however, and forbids using them to remove jurors on the basis of their race or gender.

In Miller-El v. Cockrell, Dir., Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice, No. 01-7662, which has now come before the Supreme Court, Thomas Jo Miller-El was sentenced to death for the execution-style murder of a Dallas motel employee in the course of a robbery. At his trial, the state used peremptory challenges to remove 14 jurors in addition to those it had already struck for cause. Miller-El is African American, as were 10 of the 14 jurors the state removed. Only one African American ended up serving on the jury.

Read the Supreme Court's landmark 1986 opinion in Batson v. Kentucky that set out a three-step procedure for a trial court to follow when a defendant complains that the prosecution has exercised its peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner.

Read the Fifth Circuit's Opinion upholding Miller-El's death sentence.

Read Miller-El's Successful Petition asking the Supreme Court to review his case.

Read the Supreme Court's opinion.

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