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Ristaino v. Ross

    Brief Fact Summary. An African-American defendant requested that a question about prejudice in potential jurors during voir dire.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. “The State’s obligation to the defendant to impanel an impartial jury generally can be satisfied by less than an inquiry into a specific prejudice feared by the defendant.”

    Facts. “An African-American, charged in a state court with violent crimes against a white security guard, requested the trial court to ask during voir dire a question specifically directed to possible racial prejudice on the party of any prospective jurors. The trial court refused and was affirmed on appeal.”

    Issue. Whether the Constitution entitles a defendant “to have questions posed during voir dire specifically directed to matters that conceivably might prejudice veniremen against him.”

    Held. No. The Supreme Court distinguished the previous Ham factually, as the defendant in that case was a civil rights activist, and his defense was that he had been framed by the police. The Court held that “some cases [such as Ham] may present circumstances in which an impermissible threat to the fair trial guaranteed by due process is posed by a trial court’s refusal” to pose questions about race to potential jurors. However, the Court concluded, “Ham did not announce a requirement of universal applicability.” In the present matter, the defendant was unable to “support his motion.


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