March 31, 2009

Supreme Court Decides Rivera v. Illinois

On March 31, 2009, the Supreme Court decided Rivera v. Illinois, No. 07-9995.

During jury selection in Rivera's first-degree murder trial, his counsel sought to use a peremptory challenge to excuse one of the potential jurors. The trial court denied the peremptory challenge out of concern that it was discriminatory. It was conceded that there was no basis to challenge the juror for cause. The jury convicted Rivera and he challenged his conviction on the basis of the denied peremptory.

A unanimous Supreme Court held that, provided that all jurors seated in a criminal case are qualified and unbiased, the due process clause does not require automatic reversal of a conviction because of a trial court's good-faith error in denying the defendant's peremptory challenge to a juror. There is no constitutional right to peremptory challenges. They are a creature of statute, and hence good-faith errors that affect them are a matter of state law, not federal constitutional law.

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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