California Supreme Court Overturns 3 Convictions After Finding Prosecutor Excluded Latinos From Jury

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A ruling written by California Supreme Court Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, seen in 2016, targeted the exclusion of jurors because of their race. (Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

For the first time in 16 years, the California Supreme Court has found that racial bias improperly tainted a jury selection, prompting the court to overturn three convictions — two for attempted murder.

The unanimous decision, written by Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, appeared intended to send a clear signal to prosecutors, defense lawyers and the lower courts that charges of racially motivated juror exclusions must be taken seriously.

“It is not only litigants who are harmed when the right to trial by impartial jury is abridged,” Cuellar wrote Thursday. “Taints of discriminatory bias in jury selection — actual or perceived — erode confidence in the adjudicative process, undermining the public’s trust in courts.”

A.J. Kutchins, a senior deputy state public defender who argued on behalf of the defense in the Kern County case, called Thursday’s decision “a real watershed.”

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