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WATSON v. CAMP

July 7, 1987

EARVIL WATSON, PETITIONER,
v.
ALETHEA CAMP, WARDEN GRAHAM CORRECTIONAL CENTER, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mills, District Judge:

OPINION ORDER

State felony.

Jury trial.

Guilty.

15 years.

Here on habeas corpus: State trial judge denied Petitioner a peremptory challenge against an alternate juror.

Unfortunately, we must grant the writ.

Watson brings this action for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the constitutionality of his Illinois state court conviction for residential burglary and the resulting 15-year sentence.*fn1 Specifically, Petitioner maintains he was denied the Sixth Amendment's guarantee to an impartial jury when the trial judge refused to allow him a legislatively-mandated peremptory challenge against an alternate juror who subsequently served as a member of the regular panel.

Although the Illinois courts deemed the mistake harmless, Watson asserts the miscue creates reversible error per se.

Agreeing with the state tribunals, the warden concedes the error, but nonetheless argues that the overwhelming evidence of Watson's guilt — coupled with the absence of any proven prejudice to the Defendant — makes denial of a peremptory challenge insignificant. Respondent asserts that Petitioner received a fundamentally fair trial and is consequently not entitled to the writ.

Background

On the evening of February 24, 1984, Robert Roese and his wife were returning to their trailer near Topeka, Illinois, when they heard noises coming from inside the home. Before entering, they decided to acquire the assistance of Gordon Bauer, Mrs. Roese's father. Upon their return to the residence, the group discovered several guns missing. Shortly thereafter, the men observed the Defendant attempting to flee from a hedge row. When Watson pulled a pistol, Bauer disarmed the suspect and knocked him to the ground. The police subsequently found items of jewelry on and around the Defendant. Watson was charged with residential burglary and theft of property over $300 in violation of Ill.Rev.Stat. ch. 38, ¶¶ 16-1, 19-3 (1983).

Petitioner's trial commenced June 8, 1984, in the Circuit Court of Illinois, Mason County. After the regular jury was selected and sworn, defense counsel requested a peremptory challenge for the selection of an alternate juror, consistent with Illinois law. Without reason, the court denied the motion ...


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