In Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch defends a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of the rape of a white woman, Mayella Ewell. Despite significant evidence of Tom's innocence, the jury convicts him.
We have come a long way since the time that this book was set in. But have we? As a Houston Criminal Lawyer I witness a lot of strange events and different personalities. A couple of weeks ago a man in Harris County, Texas was on trial for Capital Murder. During jury selection, while the judge was explaining general legal concepts like the presumption of innocence in an attempt to pick a jury of 12 fair and unbiased individuals, one potential juror explained that he could not give the defendant a fair trial. The reason, because the defendant was black.
Although the potential juror's response may come as shock to many, the honesty is welcomed. To admit prejudice to a roomful of strangers cannot be easy. To admit it to the Honorable Judge Marc Carter, an African-American himself, had to be even tougher. However, what would have happened if it wasn't admitted? The defendant may have ended up with a juror finding him guilty based nothing more than prejudice. The State would not have to prove a thing.
We live in a multicultural and diverse city. We interact with people from all walks of life. But that does not guarantee a fair trial if you are ever accused of a crime. That does not guarantee that you will be presumed innocent. It is up to all attorneys to vigorously defend their client and to strenuously question potential jurors to ensure that their client receive a fair trial. You will surely be found guilty if a jury already thinks you are guilty before a shred of evidence has been presented.