Like all potential jurors, potential jurors in Kentucky have a constitutional right to be eligible to serve on a jury when qualified to do so. Defendants like Mr. Wheeler also have a constitutional right to have such jurors eligible to serve on a jury.
The February 20, 2015 decision by United States Court ofAppeals for the Sixth Circuit recognized these long-standing constitutional rights and vindicated the rights of potential jurors, Kentucky residents.
Specifically, the Sixth Circuit recognized that a juror was improperly excused from potential jury service in Mr. Wheeler’s case. This constitutional violation goes to the heart of “procedural fairness in administering the death penalty” and therefore required vacating Mr. Wheeler’s death sentences. The Court identified the substantial harm, “As the Supreme Court has observed, to permit the
for-cause exclusion of an otherwise-eligible juror ‘unnecessarily narrows the cross-section of venire members’ required under the Sixth Amendment and ‘stack[s] the deck against the petitioner. To execute [such a] death sentence would deprive him of his life without due process of law.’ Gray v. Mississippi, 481 U.S. 648, 658-59 (1987) (quoting Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 523 (1968)).”
David Barron and Joe Flood represent Mr. Wheeler. The Sixth Circuit decision is found at this link.
David Barron said, “Mr. Wheeler has been on death row for approximately fourteen years. While this ruling takes a step towards protecting the integrity of the judicial system and corrects an unconstitutionally imposed sentence, it further calls into question the administration of the death penalty and the fairness of the process of arriving at a death sentence, for it took fourteen years for Mr. Wheeler’s constitutional rights to be vindicated and an extraordinary amount of money expended during that time that could be put to better use. For example, the money expended to seek a death sentence against Mr. Wheeler and the Commonwealth’s efforts to uphold an unconstitutional death sentence could have easily been used to for much needed expenses towards solving cold cases or educating our youth so that it is less likely they will later end up in the criminal justice system.”