Jurors in Alabama and other states are supposed to listen only to the facts of a case and follow relevant law when determining a verdict. However, a ruling in Massachusetts says that jurors are allowed to use their life experience when hearing evidence or deliberating in the jury room. As long as a juror can remain unbiased, he or she is generally qualified to serve regardless of their opinions on a given matter.
The ruling came in a case involving a black man who was convicted on a drug possession charge. A prospective juror said she believed that the system was rigged against young black men. She was disqualified for making such a statement. However, it was later acknowledged by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that it would be impractical to not draw on life experience when hearing a case.
Ultimately, judges will need to look at whether a juror can set aside any preconceived notions prior to deciding if that person can serve in such a role. In future cases, merely having opinions on an issue won't be enough to disqualify someone who can otherwise evaluate evidence fairly. The verdict in the case that resulted in the ruling was upheld on appeal. A court ruled that dismissing the juror did not sufficiently prejudice the defendant.
Individuals who face drug charges or other criminal charges are generally entitled to have a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may be able to help select jurors or take other steps to help a person obtain a favorable outcome in a case. A favorable outcome may include a plea deal that involves no jail time or a case being dismissed entirely. However, defendants are under no obligation to take a plea deal if they don't like the deal's terms.