Monday, December 11, 2006

Constitutional rights of the accused...

The Supreme Court ruled on Carey v. Musladin today, a case involving prejudice against the defendant at trial. Matthew Musladin was accused of shooting and killing Tom Studer. At the trial, Studer's family wore buttons featuring the victim's picture where the jury could clearly see them.

If you were on the jury in a murder trial and the victim's family wore buttons with the victim's picture on them, would it unduly influence you against the defendant? The question isn't whether or not the buttons influenced the jury, but whether or not they influenced the jury to such a degree that the defendant's right to a fair trial was harmed.

The most relevant precedent is Holbrook v. Flynn (1986), in which the Supreme Court ruled that armed guards surrounding the defendants for security purposes (why else would there be armed guards?) does not prejudice the trial. However, the precedents set regulations for the behavior of court officers, not spectators.

In Carey v. Musladin, the court ruled that the buttons with the victim's picture did not prejudice the trial.

Here's the SCOTUS opinion for Carey v. Musladin, and here's some analysis from Derek Bombauer at Harvard's law blog.

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