Advocacy group tells Supreme Court that negative stereotypes distort perception that Latinos in death penalty cases pose future danger to society

An amicus brief filed with the United States Supreme Court in support of Arizona sentenced to death John Montenegro Cruz presents evidence that Latinx defendants are particularly vulnerable to juror bias regarding determinations of future dangerousness.

LatinoJustice PRLDEFa civil rights organization that “advocates and defends the constitutional rights of Latinos under law”, filed an amicus brief in the case of Cruz vs. Arizona supporting Cruz’s argument that Arizona violated his right to due process when his trial judge refused to inform the jury that he would not be eligible for parole if he were sentenced to the life imprisonment. The brief explains that the trial court’s failure was particularly damaging to Cruz, a Latino, because of widespread negative stereotypes that Latinos are dangerous. “A jury already making a subjective decision about future dangerousness – a decision that has enormous potential to be influenced by racial bias – is at an even greater disadvantage when it lacks accurate information about alternatives to death penalty,” wrote LatinoJustice.

In an order issued on March 28, 2021, the Court granted Cruz motion to hear his case, but limited his consideration to whether the procedural rule applied by the Arizona courts to refuse to consider Cruz’s request is grounds for barring him from receiving the examination as well. of his claim in federal court.

The crux of LatinoJustice’s argument is that failure to inform jurors of the unavailability of parole “deprives a Latino defendant of due process” because this practice “allows jurors to act on their uncorrected belief that the imposition of the death penalty is the only way to protect their community from the danger of repeated crime. LatinoJustice cites research demonstrating that Latinx defendants are disproportionately harmed by future dangerousness rulings, including a 2010 study that found that “perceptions of Hispanics as criminals lead to increased support for punitive control measures of crime”.

According to the brief, future dangerousness is used against Latinx defendants in federal capital trials at a higher rate than black defendants, white defendants and other minority groups. The brief cited a study of 538 federal death penalty trials that found that future dangerousness was disproportionately alleged against Latinx defendants in capital punishment arraignment practices. The study found that “there was an allegation of future dangerousness against 80 of 99 (81%) Latino defendants cleared for the federal death penalty.”

The brief addressed the bias of jurors’ assumptions about the future dangerousness of defendants of color, explaining that “[d]Decades of studies have shown that juries — even mock juries in controlled experiments — perceive black defendants as more dangerous than white ones, and harsher sentences result. More recent research has demonstrated a widely held belief that Latinos are also more prone to crime and violence than whites. The brief cited a 2012 survey that found 58% of respondents thought “violent” described Hispanic individuals slightly or moderately well. Additionally, Amici stated that “[r]Researchers found that jury-eligible participants strongly associated Latino men with “danger” and white men with “safety,” and held similar stereotypes of dangerousness for Latino and Black men. This potential for bias to influence jury decision-making makes specific instructions about future dangerousness even more important for black and Latino defendants.

In their brief, Amici wrote that jurors have an implicit bias that Latino men are more dangerous and pose a greater risk for future criminality. They argue that this is due to the disproportionate media portrayals of Latinx individuals as criminals and the widespread disparagement of Latinx individuals in public affairs and political campaigns. However, juries are also largely unaware of the availability of release for defendants serving life sentences. The memoir goes on to say that these misconceptions about the availability of release are exacerbated when racial minorities, such as Latinx, are involved: “A juror who (wrongly) believes that a disadvantaged defendant will be paroled if he is sentenced to life in prison, and who has learned to regard this defendant as more dangerous because of his race, will be more likely to sentence him to death for a (mistaken) belief that he represents a future danger to society.

The examination of the future dangerousness of capital punishment has already been brought before the Supreme Court. In 1994, in Simmons v. South Carolina, the Court held that where future dangerousness is in issue, the defendant has the right to rebut the inference, for example, by informing the jury of the actual availability of release. Additionally, the Court has recently heard the issue of racial bias in future dangerousness assessments. Duane Buckan old Texas sentenced to death, was sentenced to death when a psychiatrist presented by his own lawyer said he posed a greater potential danger to society because he was black. In a brief by Amicus in support of Buck, the American Psychiatric Association wrote:[t]The unreliability of psychiatric predictions of long-term future dangerousness is now an established fact within the profession. On February 22, 2017, the Supreme Court overturned Buck’s death sentence, stating “[o]Our law punishes people for what they do, not for who they are. In the male decision, the Court called race-based determinations of future dangerousness a “particularly noxious strain of racial bias.”

Ultimately, LatinoJustice called Cruz’s case “a perfect storm of evidence that could lead a jury to misjudge future dangerousness” due to “the lack of Simmons education, preconceptions that parole is always available, and [Cruz was] The Latino defendant was tried at a time and in a place where messages about the dangerousness of Latinos were commonplace. »

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