AV Preeminent
The Florida Bar

Discusses Rivera v. Illinois

Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a case known as Rivera v. Illinois, according to Broward criminal attorney Moore. Michael Rivera was the criminal defendant in a 1998 trial in which he faced two counts of murder in the first degree. During the voir dire, the questioning of the jury by the prosecutor and the defendant’s criminal attorney, the defense identified a juror that they wanted to strike from the panel.

The criminal defense attorney therefore moved to strike the juror using a peremptory challenge. The prosecutor for the state of Illinois objected to the strike on the basis that it may have been for an impermissible reason — the prospective juror’s gender. The defense lawyer denied that gender discrimination was at issue. Nonetheless, the judge denied the defense motion and that juror was seated.

Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer Moore says that Rivera was later convicted of both murders at trial. Rivera was sentenced to 85 years of prison as a result of the convictions. He appealed and the Supreme Court of Illinois remanded the case back to the criminal trial court, seeking a more specific ruling on how the peremptory challenge was in fact discriminatory. The trial court clarified that the issue turned on gender discrimination and the case returned to the Illinois Supreme Court for review. At that point, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to support a determination that the defense counsel had sought to exclude the juror based on sex. Nonetheless, the Illinois Supreme Court found that the problems was a “harmless error” in that it would not have resulted in a different verdict had the prospective juror not been seated.

Rivera challenged the decision at the U.S. Supreme Court under the Due Process Clause. In a 2009 decision, Court found that reversing the verdict was not an appropriate remedy because the mistake was made in good faith by the trial court. Further, since the jurors who actually returned the verdict were unbiased and qualified to serve as jurors, there was no harmful error and the jury’s verdict stood. The decision was unanimous.

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