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The Bias of an Impartial Jury

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The Sixth Amendment guarantees the rights of criminal defendants, including the right to a public trial without unnecessary delay, the right to a lawyer, the right to an impartial jury, and the right to know who your accusers are and the nature of the charges and evidence against you. Who will help citizens to uphold this alleged right?

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Gary Val Richardson received a fair trial, despite the judge’s wife acting as a sitting member of the jury. Judge Thomas R. Ensor, now retired, jokingly told the other jurors to “be nice” to his wife, juror 25, as his “dinner was on the line.” Both the defense attorney and prosecutor felt that Mrs. Ensor was fit to sit on the jury, but Richardon’s lawyer later said, “I think we’re both afraid to challenge her.”

Despite the conflict of interest, the jury found Richardson guilty and sentenced him to 16 years behind bars. The Colorado Supreme Court upheld that ruling this week in a 6-1 vote as they believed Richardson’s lawyer waived any right to question juror 25 by not objecting during the jury selection.

Justice Richard Gabriel was the only member of the Colorado Supreme Court to question the ruling. “To me, the question is whether Richardson was denied a fair trial when the trial judge sat on a case in which his wife served as a juror and in which the judge told everyone in the courtroom to ‘be nice’ to his wife and then repeatedly reminded everyone of his relationship with her,” Gabriel observed.

The Sixth Amendment should have granted the defendant an impartial jury, but the definition of “impartial” can be manipulated based on the reviewer. The Constitution does not guarantee protection against otherwise basic human rights, further reiterating why the US has one of the highest conviction rates in the world.