Court Orders New Trial for Alabama Death Row Inmate James Harrison


A Russell County circuit judge on August 31, 2010, granted Alabama death row prisoner James Harrison’s request for postconviction relief. Following a hearing where Mr. Harrison presented new evidence that a juror from his capital trial failed to respond truthfully to several important questions during jury selection, including that she had been the victim of three robberies, the judge found that Mr. Harrison’s right to a fair trial by an impartial jury had been violated, and ordered a new trial.

The judge initially dismissed Mr. Harrison’s postconviction petition, but in April 2010, the Alabama Supreme Court sent Mr. Harrison’s case back to the circuit court for an evidentiary hearing on his impartial jury claims.

At the hearing, in addition to evidence that a juror had failed to reveal that she was a victim of three robberies, Mr. Harrison presented evidence that the juror had failed to answer truthfully during jury selection that she had served previously as a juror and had been convicted of a felony.

State and federal law require prospective jurors to answer questions truthfully during jury selection. Whether a person has been a victim of a violent crime, has served on a jury before, or has been convicted of a crime are factors that help the parties determine whether a person can be a fair and impartial juror in a particular case. When prospective jurors do not answer these types of questions truthfully, a defendant is denied his right to a fair trial by jury. That is why the judge in Mr. Harrison’s case granted a new trial.