The Court of Appeal recently ruled that a small subsection of the BVI Jury Act is unconstitutional, and, in the process, overturned a murder conviction almost half a decade old.
Alcedo Tyson was sentenced to life in prison without parole for murder in July 2013, after allegedly killing his former girlfriend Kwanna Todd-Rhymer.
But Mr. Tyson appealed his conviction, finding fault in the way the Crown had rejected potential jurors for the trial.
According to section 27(b) of the Jury Act, the Crown had the unlimited right to “stand by” jurors — or object to any potential juror without giving a reason — while the defendant could challenge only three jurors without providing a cause.
The court ruled in November that the section was unconstitutional “due to the extreme disparity it creates in the jury selection process,” while also setting aside Mr. Tyson’s conviction and sentence and referring the case for retrial.
In Mr. Tyson’s 2013 case, the Crown stood by 21 potential jurors without giving a reason, Court of Appeal documents stated.
The appellant and his lawyer, Patrick Thompson, argued that the trial was therefore unfair and likely to lead a “fair-minded observer” to believe the Crown’s jury selection process was biased.
The Crown, however, maintained that there is no evidence of bias.
“The Crown has consistently used its right of stand-by in a reasoned and responsible manner, and no evidence presented at the trial below or before this court substantiates any fear that prejudice, stereotyping, or other untoward sentiment was employed in the selection process,” court documents read.
The Crown also pointed out that there are times when a person could be qualified to sit on juries generally, but would not be suitable for a particular case.
The Court of Appeal justices disagreed, and pointed to the next section of the Jury Act as proof that there is another way a juror can be challenged: The Crown can challenge anyone, but it must provide a reason, and the judge can agree or disagree.
While refraining from saying that Mr. Tyson wasn’t originally given a fair trial, the court ruled that the jury selection process “lacked impartiality.”
As it stands, it’s uncertain if other past court cases will be affected by the Court of Appeal’s decision in November.
The DPP’s chambers applied to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which is the court of final appeal for overseas territories, to appeal the decision. A ruling has not yet been determined.