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Death Row Inmate Scores Legal Victory in the Ninth Circuit

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Written By admin at Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

In 1989, a California jury convicted Hector Ayala of murder and sentenced him to death.

At the time, lawyers for Mr. Ayala, who is Hispanic, alleged that prosecutors struck jurors from hearing the case on the basis of their race. The judge presiding over the case then heard prosecutors’ reasons for the disqualifications but didn’t reveal them to Mr. Ayala or his lawyers.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed Mr. Ayala a major victory, holding that the trial judge’s handling of the juror strikes violated his constitutional rights. The court said the juror selection procedures, coupled with the state losing a portion of the record in the case, infringed on Mr. Ayala’s rights. The Ninth Circuit reversed a trial court and orderd Mr. Ayala released from custody unless the state elects to retry him.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who authored the majority opinion, wrote that “constitutional error on the part of the state likely prevented Ayala from showing that the prosecution utilized its peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory manner, and thus permitted him to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by a jury selected in a manner repugnant to the Constitution.”

Mr. Ayala’s lawyers said the ruling, which is likely to be appealed by prosecutors, marks the most important legal victory in a battle that has spanned more than two decades. Throughout, Mr. Ayala, who was alleged to have killed three people during a 1985 robbery of an automobile shop, has maintained his innocence, his lawyers said.

One of the lawyers, Anthony Dain, said the ruling, “upholds what we think is centuries-old precedent that a criminal  defendant has a right to a fair trial and an attorney to represent him at all critical stages of that trial.”

A spokeswoman for the California Attorney General’s office did not immediately have a comment.


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