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LGBT BAR ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK (LeGaL) NEWS RELEASE, June 18, 2018
Contact Eric Lesh 347–989–6926; elesh@le-gal.org
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For Immediate Release

Supreme Court Allows Verdict to Stand in Case Where Jurors Sentenced a Gay Man to Death Fearing He Would “Enjoy” Life in All-Male Prison

“Homophobic bias and anti-LGBT prejudice should have no place in our jury system. The Supreme Court’s refusal to address this issue is an injustice, which does nothing to combat the widespread discrimination in the jury system that exists on multiple and intersecting fronts.

June 18, 2018 — Today, the US Supreme Court denied cert in Rhines v. South Dakota, a case where jurors sentenced a man to death under the theory he would “enjoy” incarceration in an all-male prison.

“This is a sad day for fair and impartial courts,” said Eric Lesh, executive director of LeGaL, the LGBT Bar of New York. “Homophobic bias and anti-LGBT prejudice should have no place in our jury system. Far too often discrimination against LGBT people has found its way into the jury deliberation process. The sad reality is, judges will often allow jurors who express anti-LGBT bias to still serve by “rehabilitating” by asking if they can, nevertheless, set those views aside and be fair anyway. The Supreme Court’s refusal to address this issue is an injustice, which does nothing to combat the widespread discrimination in the jury system that exists on multiple and intersecting fronts. We must continue to fight jury bias, homophobia and transphobia in the courts.”

Charles Russel Rhines was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and third-degree burglary by a jury that recommended imposition of the death penalty in January 1993. He tried to get the district court in a habeas corpus proceeding to consider evidence that the jury was biased against him because he is gay, and that this heavily factored into the jury’s decision to recommend the death penalty.

He has juror affidavits to that effect. For a variety of complex reasons relating to federal procedure, U.S. District Judge Karen E. Schreier found in her May 25 ruling that she was without jurisdiction to consider the merits of his claim. Rhines also has an appeal from prior habeas rejections pending before the 8th Circuit. And, always a long shot, but he also has a petition for certiorari pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rhines v. State of South Dakota, Case, arguing that the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, provides a basis for reopening his case to consider this evidence.

The South Dakota Supreme Court rejected his motion to this effect, providing the procedural basis for this attempted appeal. In Pena-Rodriguez, the Supreme Court held that the normal refusal of courts to inquire into the substance of jury deliberations must give way to evidence that the jurors relied on racial stereotypes or animus in their deliberations. Rhines’ evidence goes directly to the death penalty verdict, including sworn statements by some of the jurors that they were aware Rhines was gay and they did not want to send him to live in all-male general population prison setting where he would get lots of gay sex and sexually corrupt straight prisoners, so they recommended the death penalty.

The South Dakota Supreme Court, relying on pre-Pena-Rodriguez precedents, held that statements by jurors during voir dire that they could be fair to the defendant despite his sexual orientation were sufficient to reject any argument the jury was biased. With the state having filed its response to the Petition and Rhines’ public defender lawyers having filed replies to the state filing and updated the record before the Court to include reference to Judge Schreier’s opinion, the record has been distributed to the Justices and listed for consideration at their June 14 conference.

The LGBT Bar Association of New York (LeGaL) was one of the nation’s first bar associations of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender legal community. LeGaL is dedicated to improving the administration of the law, ensuring full equality for members of the LGBT community and promoting the expertise and advancement of LGBT legal professionals.

Eric Lesh is the co-author of “Jury Selection and anti-LGBT Bias.”

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Contact info: Eric Lesh, 347–989–6926; elesh@le-gal.org

Executive Director, LeGaL @lgbtbarny. Attorney promoting justice in & through the legal profession for the #LGBT community. 40 Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40.

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