Criminal defendants in Washington have the right to a trial by jury. They do not have the right to pick the jurors, however. Rather, jurors are randomly selected from people living in the county where the crime occurred. The prosecution and the defense both can question jurors for potential bias, though, and can make peremptory challenges to strike certain jurors that they feel may not be able to render an impartial decision. Peremptory challenges cannot be used for unethical or unjust purposes, however, like racial discrimination. In a recent opinion issued in a DUI case, a Washington court discussed the grounds for evaluating whether a peremptory challenge to a juror was improper. If you are charged with a DUI crime, you should confer with a seasoned Washington DUI defense attorney as soon as possible to evaluate your rights.
The Defendant’s Arrest and Trial
It is reported that the defendant was arrested and charged with felony DUI, felony physical control while under the influence, and reckless driving. The case proceeded to trial, and during the voir dire of the jury, the State used peremptory challenges to three jurors. The defense objected to the use of the challenges, but two of the jurors were excused regardless. The defendant was found guilty of the physical control charge and sentenced to fifteen months in prison. He then appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in allowing the State to remove two jurors because the strikes constituted racial discrimination, in violation of Washington law.
Racial Discrimination in the Selection of Jurors
Under GR 37, a Washington Rule, racial discrimination in the process of selecting a jury is prohibited, regardless of whether it arises out of an implicit bias or is the result of purposeful discrimination. GR 37 was adopted by the Washington Supreme Court to address the unjust exclusion of potential jurors due to an unconscious bias. It allows a party to object to the use of a peremptory challenge on the grounds that it demonstrates improper bias, after which the objecting party must articulate its reasons, and the court must evaluate whether the challenge is justified based on the totality of the circumstances. Continue reading