Saturday, August 6, 2011

Kansas Attorney Tries to Blaze New Trail in Jury Selection

A Kansas attorney argued to the Tenth Circuit in United States v. Prince that the prosecutor violated the defendant's Equal Protection rights by striking prospective jurors who supported the legalization of marijuana. More specifically, the defendant argued that Supreme Court precedent in Batson v. Kentucky precludes the government from striking jurors on the basis of the jurors' political or ideological beliefs.

The court observed that Batson was intended to protect classes of individuals on the basis of their status in a protected class and did not extend to jurors' political or social views. As the court noted, "there is a sharp distinction between one's status in a protected class and one's views on marijuana legalization." The court ultimately declined to extend the protections of Batson to "cover discrimination based on political or ideological viewpoints," but the creativity underlying the defendant's challenge should not go unnoticed. In addition, the opinion serves to remind attorneys that a prospective juror's views on marijuana may play a large role in the voir dire process. As expected in the Tenth Circuit, however, the defendant's argument ultimately went up in smoke. (Or did it go down in flames?)