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Massachusetts jurors can let beliefs inform judgement

Every judge has a set of criteria to uses to measure whether an individual would make a good juror in a case. At the top of the list is that person's ability to have an open mind as evidence is presented. However, some look a little further, also expecting that a juror's beliefs, worldviews or opinions should not inform their decision-making process for the case.

Now Massachusetts Justice Kimberly has written a decision that refutes this latter assertion. In part, it reads: "Asking a prospective juror to put aside his or her preconceived notions about the case to be tried is entirely appropriate (and indeed necessary); however, asking him or her to put aside opinions formed based on his or her life experiences or belief system is not."

Williams, who is African-American, wrote this decision in response to the case of Commonwealth v. Quinton Williams. Williams is an African-American defendant convicted of possessing cocaine with intent to distribute. The Supreme Judicial Court heard the case because the trial judge dismissed a potential juror who worked with kids from low-income families or teens who were convicted of drug crimes after she said she believed that the system is rigged against black men. She added that she could still remain impartial about the case she would hear. Despite the objection of Williams' defense attorney, the judge excused the juror.

Local and national implications

This case is significant here in Massachusetts but also nationally. It passed down a decision about what factors a judge should consider when picking a juror or dismissing them based on their beliefs. Budd added that since jurisprudence has been "somewhat muddled" in addressing preconceived notion, her decision provides clearer guidelines, which include a juror drawing upon preconceived notions as long as they can listen to the evidence make decisions based on guidance provided by the judge. Chief Justice Ralph Gants and Justice Frank Gaziano supported the decision in concurring decisions.

Understanding the juror's role

Knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorneys work with juries all the time. While their job is to defend their client's rights in court, they also must work with the impartial jurors to enlighten them to the facts and fit their approach to get a positive outcome from the jury.

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