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California inmate released after constitutional rights were violated

More than twenty years after being convicted and sentenced to death, a Hispanic man is finally breathing free air again after being granted appeal for the conviction for which he has always maintained innocence.

In 1989, a California jury heard the case of the Hispanic man who allegedly killed three people during a 1985 automobile shop robbery. The jury later convicted him of murder and sentenced him to death.

But all through the trial, his lawyers alleged that the prosecutors struck jurors from hearing the case on the basis of their race. The judge presiding over the case heard the prosecutor's reasons for the juror's disqualifications but never divulged this information to the accused or his lawyers.

Late this August though, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed that the trial judge's handling of the juror strikes, coupled with the state losing a portion of the record in the case, violated his constitutional rights. The court then reversed the trial court and ordered that he be released from custody.

Though prosecutors are likely to appeal the ruling, the man's lawyers say that this marks the most important legal victory in a battle that has spanned more than two decades. One of the man's lawyers said that this 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."

If you have questions regarding criminal defense, seeking the help of an attorney is well advised.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Death Row Inmate Scores Legal Victory in the Ninth Circuit," Steve Eder, Aug. 29, 2012

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