Even if a Colorado judge committed disability discrimination by firing four hearing impaired individuals from a jury pool, the Denver-based federal appeals court declined to overturn the defendant’s conviction, saying his attorney had the situation Treated appropriately in the process.
A three-person panel on the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on Friday that the Americans with Disabilities Act extends to legal proceedings, and the expulsion of a disabled jury violates a defendant’s rights. The Colorado Supreme Court even recognized in 1999 that automatic exclusion of jurors with hearing problems was against the law.
However, the failure of a defense attorney to assert certain legal violations at the time of the trial did not constitute insufficient representation, the panel found. There was also no evidence that disqualifying jurors led to a biased outcome.
“This case is a prime example of how discrimination in jury selection can still result in fair trial,” wrote Judge Timothy M. Tymkovich in a May 7 statement.
A 2008 jury convicted Kennith Meadows of three sexual offenses involving a minor relative. The trial took place in Jackson County, northwest Colorado, which has approximately 1,400 residents and only one parish. When selecting the jury, several members of the jury pool had difficulty hearing questions from the lawyers. Then-Judge Richard P. Doucette dismissed two jurors in whole or in part for this reason and asked Meadows’ public defense attorney to ask if the courthouse had amplification equipment.
“Remember where you are,” replied Doucette. “We don’t have that here. I’m sure they do it in Fort Collins but we don’t have it available and I’m not sure I can get it here in a reasonable time. “
Fort Collins, two hours away in Larimer County, is in the same judicial district as Jackson County. After Doucette dismissed a third juror for hearing problems, the defense appealed.
“I think we have an obligation to provide these people with the necessary equipment so that they can act as jurors if necessary,” said the lawyer. The judge said he understood, but reiterated that the equipment could not get to Jackson County in a reasonable time.
Doucette continued to apologize to other jurors for the defense’s objection. One man even said he “turned my hearing aid on and I can hear about 50 percent of what you say and absolutely nothing the lawyers have to say”. Eventually, prosecutors offered to have one of their witnesses collect the equipment at Fort Collins.
“Yeah, that would be fine, especially for tomorrow,” Doucette replied, stating that he wasn’t sure the amplification equipment would actually solve the problem. He continued, “There is an obligation to help, but at what point do you say okay. I’ve been talking as loud as I can and he’s about three feet away from me saying he can’t hear anything and I don’t think there is any equipment for that [is] will fix that. “
The aids never arrived at the end of the jury’s selection, and the judge dismissed four people because of their hearing problems alone. Meadows initially appealed his case at the state level to no avail. He then went to federal courts, claiming that the failure to admit a hearing-impaired jury violated the Disabled Americans Act and his constitutional right to draw a jury from a fair cross-section of the community.
“If there is discrimination in the selection of the jury, it should in any case be viewed as fundamentally unfair,” Meredith Esser, Meadows’ attorney on appeal, told the judges of the 10th circle during an oral hearing.
Meadows also alleged that his attorney was ineffective in helping him by failing to form a legal argument against the jury’s apology.
In 2019, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson confirmed that it was contrary to American Disability Act to automatically remove people from a jury based on their hearing problems. The landmark Civil Rights Act of 1990 forbids the exclusion of people from public services, programs or accommodation because of their disability.
“Therefore, the court agrees with Mr. Meadows that in 2008 a competent attorney would have been informed of the applicability of the ADA and a defendant’s right to a fair trial and jury selected through neither arbitrary nor discriminatory means,” he said wrote.
However, Jackson noted that at this point the defense attorney was aware of the issue and that his handling of the situation was appropriate.
Upon review, the 10th Circuit Panel confirmed Jackson’s findings. The panel, Tymkovich wrote, shouldn’t question the defense attorney’s strategy. With that in mind, the attorney may have had valid reasons for refusing to move the case to be closed or for pushing the court harder to accommodate the hearing impaired, including wanting to get along with the judge.
“Meadows’ attorney may have concluded that tools may not solve the problem in the first place, delaying the process and creating inconvenience for the other potential jurors. He may have wanted to maintain his relationship with the court,” Tymkovich said.
Although Meadows failed to show that the expulsion of the hearing impaired jury resulted in bias against him, he claimed their dismissal was a structural flaw – a fundamental injustice in the trial. The Circuit 10th Panel instead recognized that the injustice burned into the process in selecting the jury could nonetheless have resulted in a fair outcome for Meadows.
“The remaining jury pool can be completely impartial and fair to the accused, so that despite the arbitrary or discriminatory exclusion of certain jurors, he still receives a fair trial,” wrote Tymkovich.
The case is Meadows v. Lind.
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