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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Ind. Decisions - "Pastor’s jury-pool dismissal is upheld" [Updated]

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision in Marshall Highler v. State of Indiana is the subject of a comprehensive story today by Dionne Waugh in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

The Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a decision that an Allen County prosecutor did not violate a defendant’s rights by dismissing a potential juror because he was a pastor.

The decision also affirmed the state Court of Appeals ruling last year that extended the protections against race and gender discrimination in jury selection to religion.

The Supreme Court opinion addressed the issue of race and religion in jury selection and sought to clarify the appeals court ruling because it expects the issue to come up in the future.

The debate stemmed from a rape trial in Allen Superior Court in August 2004. During jury selection, Deputy Prosecutor Stacey Speith excused a pastor, who was the only black man in the jury pool, from service. The defendant, Marshall Highler, appealed his conviction on the basis that the pastor was dismissed because of his race.

In explaining that she was not excusing the man because of his race, Speith raised another question. At the time, she said, “I never take any pastors, ministers, reverends or priests on my jury panels just because they’re more apt for forgiveness.”

This was a key point in the appeals and Supreme Court rulings. The Supreme Court opinion said it violates a prospective juror’s rights to bar them from a jury because of race, gender or religious affiliation. But it’s a separate issue if the prospective juror’s religious beliefs prevent them from following the law, the court said.

Additionally, a potential juror can be dismissed based on occupation if the occupation may show a bias and is not an excuse, the opinion said.

The appeals court upheld the original decision, citing that Speith’s primary motivation for removing the pastor came from the pastor’s concerns written in his jury questionnaire about the criminal justice system.

The Supreme Court opinion said it agreed with the appeals court decision to uphold the original ruling because Speith’s justification for dismissing the pastor was his occupation. Generally, removing potential jurors because of their occupation is not unconstitutional, the court ruled.

In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that the defendant, Highler, lost his objection about removing such a prospective juror because he did not object to it at trial. Because Highler’s complaint was only about unconstitutional racial discrimination, not the religious or occupational issues, he failed to preserve such questions for appeal, the opinion said.

[Updated 10/6/06] See also this AP story.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 5, 2006 07:35 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions