BANGOR, Maine (AP) — A Black man who is going to trial on a murder charge believes jurors could be prejudiced against him if he is forced to wear a mask.
Making the defendant, Carine Reeves, of New York, wear a mask would be problematic because masks are often associated with crime, his attorney, Stephen Smith, told a Maine judge on Wednesday.
“We’re at a particular moment in this nation’s history when having a court force a Black man to wear a mask or to be judged by jurors wearing masks … is in our view unconstitutional,” he said.
Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea said Reeves could achieve his wish of a mask-free trial by agreeing to delay his trial until after the pandemic is over, something Reeves declined do.
“Although the defendant does have constitutional rights, those constitutional rights have to be balanced against the health and safety of all individuals involved this process,” she said.
Reeves is charged with murder in the 2017 killing of Sally Shaw, who was shot in the head and left on the side of a road in Cherryfield.
The trial, scheduled to begin later this month, would be among the first to take place in Maine since the pandemic reduced courthouse hours and delayed trials.
Court officials have consulted with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention on how to safely conduct trials. The Maine CDC recommends that people engage in social distancing and wear masks while indoors, officials said.
In his motion, Smith pointed to a study by North Carolina researchers who wrote, “African Americans are particularly prone to racial profiling solely due to the fact that they are wearing masks.”
Superior Court Justice Harold Stewart II said he would rule on the defendant’s motion on masks within a few days.
His trial in Maine initially was delayed while charges in New York were resolved. Reeves has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for two separate assaults in New York.