The ACLU’s Ría Tabacco Mar reviewed a recent SCOTUS decision in the NYT. South Dakota is being allowed to murder a man rather than commit him to a life time of hell in a natural life sentence . Charles Rhines was convicted of murdering a man while robbing a Dunkin Donut store he used to work at and was fired from a couple of weeks earlier.
The jury in deciding Charles Rhines fate in deliberation sent questions to the judge asking;
Would Rhines have a cellmate? Would he be allowed to “create a group of followers or admirers”? Would he be allowed to “have conjugal visits”? They apologized if any of the questions were “inappropriate,” but indicated that they were important to their decision-making.
The judge declined to answer, telling the jurors everything they needed to know was already in the jury instructions they’d received.
Eight hours of deliberation later and the jury sentenced Charles Rhines to death. It was not until 2016, when the newly appointed federal capital defenders found the jury note and restarted the appeals process and they interviewed the jurors learning what can be described as a preconceived bias of the jury towards Charles Rhines because he was gay.
One juror said Rhines was gay “and thought that he should not be able to spend his life with men in prison.” A second recalled another juror making a comment “sentencing Rhines to life in prison would be sending him where he wants to go.” A third said “there was lots of discussion of homosexuality” in the jury room. Another juror said, “There was a lot of expressed disgust. This is a farming community. There were a lot of folks who were like, Ew, I can’t believe that.” All of which is not pertinent to the sentencing. The jury sentenced Charles Rhines to death because he was gay and not because he murdered someone.
To provide for the integrity of the jury and what they discuss in deliberation in the jury room; there is what is known as the no-impeachment rule. It says testimony from jurors during jury deliberations may not be used to impeach a verdict during an appeal. In this case as one of Charles Rhines attorney’s Shawn Nolan argues, “the juror misconduct violated constitutional protections — so the rule should not apply.” The rule was overturned once before when considering racial prejudice in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado;
Miguel Angel Peña-Rodriguez was convicted of unlawful sexual conduct and harassment, two jurors came forward to tell his lawyer that another juror had made racially charged statements about Peña-Rodriguez and an alibi witness, commenting about the likelihood that Peña-Rodriguez was guilty and the witness was not credible because both were Hispanic. Peña-Rodriguez sought a new trial based on the jury misconduct, but the courts said no because of the no-impeachment rule. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed. “A constitutional rule that racial bias in the justice system must be addressed — including, in some instances, after the verdict has been entered — is necessary to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts, a confidence that is a central premise of the Sixth Amendment trial right,” the court wrote. As such, the court concluded that “where a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant, the Sixth Amendment requires that the no-impeachment rule give way” so that the court can consider whether the misconduct tainted the promise of a fair trial.
The Law is meant to punish “people for what they do and not who they are.”
Jurors Thought a Man Would Enjoy Prison, So They Sentenced Him to Death Jordan Smith, The Intercept, June 13, 2018
A Jury May Have Sentenced a Man to Death Because of What He Is And the Justices Don’t Care. Ría Tabacco Mar, NYT, Jume 19, 2018
author; run75441 @ Angry Bear Blog