(CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to overturn the murder conviction in a gang-related killing, even though the trial judge had seated a juror whom the defense counsel wanted dismissed. The justices acknowledged that juror should not have been seated, but said the error was harmless and did not trigger reversal of the conviction.
Michael Rivera, who is Hispanic, was convicted in Illinois of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a black teenager he mistook for a rival gang member.
During jury selection, Rivera’s attorney asked to use a peremptory challenge to dismiss Deloris Gomez, who otherwise met the requirements for jury selection. The trial judge denied the request, saying the challenge appeared to be discriminatory, particularly after the defense used two of its three peremptory challenges on women, one of whom was black.
The jury found Rivera guilty of first-degree murder. Rivera appealed his conviction, claiming Gomez had been improperly seated on the jury.
The Illinois Supreme Court agreed that the trial court had erred, but rejected Rivera’s claim that the improper seating was a “reversible error” that prejudiced the jury.
The question before the U.S. Supreme Court was: If all seated jurors are qualified and unbiased, does the Constitution require automatic reversal of the defendant’s conviction after a juror was improperly seated?
The justices said it doesn’t.
“If a defendant is tried before a qualified jury composed of individuals not challengeable for cause, the loss of a peremptory challenge due to a state court’s good-faith error is not a matter of federal concern,” Justice Ginsburg wrote for the unanimous court. “Rather, it is a matter for the State to address under its own laws.”