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    • Brief

    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

    Argument: 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.).  

    • Brief

    Lacaze v. Louisiana

    Brief of Amici Curiae Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and 32 Other Associations of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Support of Petitioner (On Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Louisiana).

    Argument: This Court should resolve the inconsistent application of McDonough resulting from a well-established circuit split to ensure criminal defendants receive strong and uniform protections against juror bias. This Court has never clarified McDonough’s application in criminal cases. Courts applying the McDonough test for juror bias in the criminal context have largely ignored the constitutional divide between criminal and civil defendants. Courts’ application of McDonough ignores these nuances, resulting in disparate and inadequate protections for criminal defendants. The Louisiana Supreme Court wrongly deprived Mr. Lacaze of his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury. Against the backdrop of criminal juries’ remarkable power and unique responsibilities, McDonough requires that a new trial be granted when (1) a juror fails, intentionally or unintentionally, to answer honestly a material question on voir dire; and (2) the truthful answer provides a basis upon which a reasonable judge would have struck the juror for cause. In a system where criminal defendants face the most extreme penalties available under the law, allegations of jurors’ bias must be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure they are impartially carrying out their grave responsibility: to fairly and accurately assess an accused’s guilt or innocence.