Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court reversed the death sentence Scott Peterson received after being convicted for the 2002 murder of his wife and unborn child. In more recent news, the state’s high court ordered a trial judge to review the merits of one of Peterson’s post-conviction claims.
Specifically, the high court was concerned about Peterson’s claim that one of the jurors on his case failed to disclose that she had once feared for her unborn child when her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend harassed her. Evidently, the juror had to take out a restraining order against the woman, who was charged based on the juror’s allegations and ultimately spent a week in jail.
The juror’s failure to disclose this pertinent information, Peterson argued, consisted of “prejudicial misconduct.” In Peterson’s court filings, he notes that the juror seemed as though she “wanted” to be on the jury so that she could convict Peterson for his alleged crimes. Peterson notes that the juror’s employer did not offer to pay her for the time she would be on the jury, and that she agreed to sit on the jury even though it would take several months.
Under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, criminal defendants are entitled to an “impartial” jury. Over the years, courts have had many occasions to interpret what impartiality is in the context of a criminal jury. One of the criteria courts use when assessing whether a juror is qualified is whether they can be fair given their own belief and experiences. For example, this is why judges ask jurors if they have been the victim of a crime in the past.
In this case, the juror hid the fact that she was the victim of a crime. This is information that the defense would have wanted to know, given that the nature of the charges Peterson faced was similar to the fears that motivated the juror to seek a restraining order. Peterson argued that the fact that the juror hid her past victimization was a conscious decision to, essentially, poison the jury. Indeed, Peterson also notes that the juror was one of just two hold-out jurors who were strongly in favor of finding him guilty of first-degree murder for the killing of his unborn child. Peterson was ultimately found guilty of second-degree murder on that charge.
The high court’s ruling is not necessarily an indication that Peterson’s request for a new trial will be granted, only that the lower court must hear the merits of his argument.