When defendants in Illinois go on trial for state or federal offenses, they often face a jury trial. Jurors’ life experiences and opinions about society can often affect their decisions, for better or worse. One Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruling in February 2019 formalized the recognition of that reality, saying that members of juries cannot leave their world views outside the courtroom. Instead, the court argued that it was not desirable for jurors to ignore their own lived experiences.
The case began when a prospective juror was excused for cause after she said that she believed the criminal justice system was generally unfair to young black men. The trial was for a black man facing drug charges. The potential juror, who works professionally with teens and youth with a history of drug offenses and economic marginalization, said that she believed she could judge the case impartially. While the defendant’s attorney objected, the judge dismissed the juror.
The defendant, who was convicted, appealed against the potential juror’s dismissal, saying that her beliefs were not a good cause to excuse her. While the high court upheld his conviction, saying that he was not subjected to undue prejudice as a result, the court also noted that jurors should be assessed on their ability to be fair in a specific case. The decision said that judges must ask jurors to set aside any preconceived notions about the case; however, it is not possible to ignore a person’s own belief system and lived experiences.
The consequences for facing drug charges can be substantial. Guilty parties may have to deal with fines, prison time or a felony criminal record. However, a criminal defense attorney can help a defendant defend their rights and challenge prosecution narratives.