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Federal appeals court overturns California murder conviction

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned the murder conviction of a California woman Monday. The federal appellate court held that the woman was denied the right to a fair trial. California state courts and one federal judge previously had upheld the conviction.

The matter began with allegations in October 1993. Police claim the woman was driving a car in Long Beach on an October afternoon casing stores with friends, intending to return later that night and commit a California robbery.

The woman reportedly drove into a liquor store parking lot. Police allege two of the woman's friends got out of the car and entered the liquor store. Law enforcement claims the two came out of the store, when one went back in, robbed the store and shot the proprietor, killing him. The woman reportedly waited in the car during the alleged incident.

Law enforcement claims the woman admitted casing the stores, but the plan was to commit the California robberies later that night, after dark. The woman denied guilt and took the matter to trial before a jury. At the conclusion of evidence the jury deliberated the facts of the case.

One of the jurors held out, insisting there was not enough evidence to convict the woman of murder. The trial judge reportedly summoned the holdout juror and questioned him about the deliberations. The judge ultimately dismissed the lone holdout. The jury convicted the woman of murder the next day, without the lone holdout serving on the jury. The woman was sentenced to life without parole.

Any experienced Santa Cruz Criminal defense attorney understands the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees individuals charged with a crime the right to jury trial. The three judge federal appellate panel says the constitutional right to a jury trial includes the jurors' "freedom to deliberate without coercion." Writing for the court, Judge Stephen Reinhardt says "No one, including the judge, is even supposed to be aware of the views of individual jurors during deliberations."

The court overturned tee murder conviction. The ruling entitles the woman to a new trial.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, "U.S. court: murder case juror's dismissal improper," Bob Egelko 25 May 2011

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