Legal Updates

Jury or Waiver Trial

COMMONWEALTH V. ROSENTHAL

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has decided the case of Commonwealth v. Rosenthal,

No. 1401 WDA 2018, holding that general racial animus or stereotyping is insufficient to overturn a jury verdict.  For a jury verdict to be overturned due to racial bias, the animus must be directed at the defendant or his witnesses.  See e.g., Pena-Rodriguez, 137 S. Ct. at 869.  Therefore, in this case the juror’s discussions of general racial stereotypes was not enough to grant a new trial.

Rosenthal was charged with theft by unlawful taking or deception and related charges. He demanded a jury trial and the case proceeded to deliberations.  While in deliberations several of the jurors made racial stereotypes about Italian and Irish men.  According to one of the jurors, “she thought Italian men wanted sex all the time.”  Rosenthal at 6.  The jury convicted Rosenthal, and after his conviction he appealed requesting a new trial.  According to Rosenthal, the evidence of racial stereotype was sufficiently prejudicial to overturn the verdict.

The Superior Court disagreed comparing the case to Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 127 S. C.t 855 (2017)In that case the jurors made anti-Hispanic stereotypes aimed directly towards the defendant and his alibi witness.  Therefore, the evidence of prejudice was sufficient to warrant a new trial.  Here, the court reasoned that general evidence of racial bias was insufficient to prove dispositive prejudice.

The decision suggests that to overturn a jury verdict the appellant must “show that racial animus was a significant motivating factor in the juror(s) vote to convict.”  For example, in Pena-Rodriguez the jurors stated they believed the defendant was guilty because “Mexican Men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women.”  Therefore, the prejudice of the jurors was a significant motivating factor in finding him guilty of the sex offenses.

The Superior Court did affirm that allegations of racial bias is sufficient to inquire into deliberations of the jury.  Therefore, there is nothing to bar a defendant from investigating and inquiring into juror deliberations where there is evidence that racial bias was a factor in deliberations.

RACIAL BIAS AND JURY SELECTION

The Rosenthal decision touches on a recurrent theme in the litigation of jury trials.  In criminal cases the government may attempt to use racial bias to convict a defendant.  It is illegal on the government to select witnesses for a trial based on their race.  Therefore, if the district attorney litigating the case against you is selecting all black or white jurors without a race neutral objective you may be eligible for a new trial.

AGGRESSIVE LITIGATION OF JURY TRIALS

 The issue of race is just one example of different circumstances that arise between waiver and jury trials.  Unlike in a waiver trial in a jury trial all twelve jurors must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant committed the crime.  In a waiver trial the judge is the finder of fact and makes the determination of guilt.  Further, a defendant who chooses a jury trial may strike up to seven (7) individuals in most cases from the jury, for any reason whatsoever.  These are substantial advantages that cause most high-profile cases to proceed by way of jury trial rather than waiver trial.  The main advantage of the waiver trial is its efficiency; a waiver trial can be litigated in two hours whereas a jury trial usually takes at least four days.  Our firm believes in using the jury trial to maximum effect.  It may make sense to demand a jury trial to take advantage of the additional benefits involved compared to the waiver trial.

PHILADELPHIA CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEYS

Our firm has had success in litigating jury trials in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County.  We point with pride to the case of Commonwealth v. L.W.  In that case defendant was charged with serious felony offenses that if convicted, would have resulted in more than twenty years in prison.  Following a four-day jury trial and two days of juror deliberations the jury could not reach a conclusion.  The judge declared a hung jury and the matter was again listed for trial.  Before the second trial the government offered LW a plea to far less serious charges and a probation sentence.  Prior to the first jury trial the best offer was a state sentence.  Therefore, the pressure imposed on the government forced them to break down and eventually make a dramatically better and satisfactory offer under the circumstances.

WAIVER / JURY TRIAL DECISION

 The decision whether to waive and litigate a trial before a judge or proceed to jury is a fact-specific determination.  It should be analyzed carefully.  Before you make this decision sit-down with a qualified Philadelphia criminal defense attorney to discuss your options.  Our firm has litigated waiver and jury trials, and we can make you aware of the differences between the two.  Further, we can apprise you on developments such as Rosenthal, which indirectly weigh on the decision to proceed through waiver or jury trial.

If you need to speak with a qualified Philadelphia criminal defense attorney contact our office at 267-535-9776.  We have qualified Philadelphia criminal lawyers with ten years of trial experience ready to assist you in litigating your case.  In most situations and especially with serious criminal charges, it may pay to be aggressive.  If you force the government to prove their case you may receive a better offer pre-trial.  The standard against a criminal defendant, which is proof beyond a reasonable doubt, is the highest in our government system.  Such doubt requires the sort of reasonable certainty one has in coming to a major life decision.  If you proceed by way of jury trial all twelve jurors must have a reasonable certainty.  Do not delay.  Call our office now to setup a free consultation and get prepared for your trial.  The bigger the case the more important it is you speak with a qualified legal professional about resolution of your criminal matter.  An experienced and aggressive Philadelphia criminal lawyer can be the difference between years in prison and walking free.