United States v. James Johnson

Brief of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and American Civil Liberties Union Foundation as Amici Curiae In Support of Appellant

Brief filed: 07/06/2023


United States v. James Johnson

3rd Circuit Court of Appeals; Case No. 22-2845


NACDL and the ACLU Foundation filed a joint amicus brief addressing how courts should implement during jury selection an informed understanding of implicit (or “unconscious”) racial bias.  In a case in which the defendant and his trial counsel are African American, the district court struck for cause a prospective juror who said race would “impact” her deliberations in that she would scrutinize her thinking for the effects of “inherent bias.”  While recognizing that jurors should examine their own thinking for the effects of unconscious bias, the court thought that examining witness testimony for its effects would be improper.  Believing the juror would do both, the judge granted the government’s for-cause challenge.  That ruling restricted a fundamental jury function:  weighing bias in assessing witness credibility.  Barring consideration of racial bias in particular threatens the accused’s rights to an impartial jury and fair trial.  The ruling also undermines public confidence in the criminal legal system and the rights of diverse jurors to serve as jurors.  
Mateo de la Torre of King & Spalding LLP was the volunteer author, with input from colleagues Jamie Dycus and Craig Carpenito.  Claudia Van Wyk, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s Death Penalty Project, contributed substantial research and drafting.  Martín Sabelli and Lisa Mathewson were on the brief for NACDL.  Mr. Johnson is represented on appeal by Renee Pietropaolo of the Federal Public Defenders Office (W.D. Pa.).  The case is United States v. James Johnson, No. 22-2845 (3d Cir.).  


Claudia Van Wyk, ACLU, Durham, NC; Martín Sabelli, Law office of Martín Sabelli, San Francisco, CA; Lisa Mathewson, Mathewson Law LLC, Philadelphia, PA; Craig Carpenito, Jamie Dycus, Mateo De La Torre, King & Spalding LLP, New York, NY.

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