Sixth Amendment

Removing unvaccinated potential jurors didn't violate defendants' Sixth Amendment rights, 4th Circuit rules

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A federal judge’s decision to remove unvaccinated potential jurors did not violate two defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to have their cases heard by a fair cross section of the community, a federal appeals court has ruled.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, ruled April 11 against a husband and wife who were convicted on drug and money-laundering charges., Law360 and the Washington Post have coverage.

Neither defendant had been vaccinated because of “sincerely held beliefs.”

U.S. District Judge David J. Novak of the Eastern District of Virginia had eliminated unvaccinated potential jurors for cause without a request by the lawyers. He did so after the jury venire had been assembled but before the trial jury was chosen. At the time, the delta variant of COVID-19 was raising concern.

The 4th Circuit affirmed in an opinion by U.S. Circuit Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., an appointee of former President Donald Trump.

Quattlebaum said the fair-cross-section requirement applies to venires of potential jurors, not petit juries who actually hear the case.

“The district court’s decision to strike unvaccinated jurors based on their perceived inability to serve without creating unnecessary safety risks affected the composition of the petit jury for this particular case, not the individuals represented in the venire from which the petit jury is selected,” Quattlebaum wrote. “So we affirm.”

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