The Right to an Impartial Jury

Fundamentals of Procedural Law by Adam J. McKee

The U.S. Constitution, via the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, guarantees criminal defendants the right to an impartial jury. This right is one of the cornerstones of our justice system, designed to ensure fair trials and limit the potential for governmental abuse.

Understanding Jury Impartiality

The term “impartial jury” signifies a group of individuals who can make decisions on a case without bias or prejudice. Jurors must evaluate the presented evidence and the law, not personal feelings, experiences, or preconceptions about the crime, the defendant, or the law itself.

Jury Selection and Voir Dire

The selection of an impartial jury occurs during a process known as “voir dire.” During this phase, potential jurors are questioned about their backgrounds and potential biases. This examination process helps to identify and eliminate jurors who may be unable to render a fair verdict.

Batson v. Kentucky

The Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky (1986), significantly impacted the jury selection process. In Batson, an African American defendant argued that the prosecutor’s removal of all potential African American jurors violated his right to a trial by an impartial jury. The Supreme Court agreed, establishing the principle that using peremptory challenges to exclude jurors solely based on race violates the Equal Protection Clause. This case underscores the importance of impartiality in ensuring a fair trial.

Landmark Cases that Shaped the Right to an Impartial Jury

Over the years, several landmark cases have clarified and shaped the right to an impartial jury. Here are two more to understand:

Sheppard v. Maxwell

In Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966), the Supreme Court overturned a conviction due to the trial judge’s failure to protect the defendant from inherently prejudicial publicity, which denied him a fair trial. The case emphasized that a defendant has the right to an impartial jury, and the court has a duty to protect this right.

Skilling v. United States

In Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010), the Supreme Court rejected the defendant’s claim of jury prejudice due to pretrial publicity, highlighting the difference between jury bias and community sentiment. It noted that an impartial jury does not require jurors to be entirely ignorant of the facts and issues involved in a case.


The right to an impartial jury is a fundamental aspect of the U.S. justice system, ensuring every defendant receives a fair trial by a group of unbiased individuals. This right is protected by the Constitution and upheld through rigorous jury selection procedures. The landmark cases of Batson v. Kentucky, Sheppard v. Maxwell, and Skilling v. United States illustrate the ongoing development and safeguarding of this essential right.



Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  07/24/2023

[ Back | Content | Next]

This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

Open Education Resource--Quality Master Source License


Print for Personal Use

You are welcome to print a copy of pages from this Open Educational Resource (OER) book for your personal use. Please note that mass distribution, commercial use, or the creation of altered versions of the content for distribution are strictly prohibited. This permission is intended to support your individual learning needs while maintaining the integrity of the material.

Print This Text Section Print This Text Section

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.