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Blacks Routinely Kept Off Juries

Blacks Routinely Kept Off Juries

Striking potential jurors solely on the basis of their race is unlawful, yet somehow, almost 135 years after passage of the Civil Rights Act, people of color routinely find themselves excluded from jury service because of their race.  This is especially true in southern states and in serious criminal trials and death penalty cases.

The information comes as a result of a comprehensive study conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative, and the results are as depressing as they are disturbing.  For two years EJI conducted research in eight southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee), including interviewing over 100 African-American citizens who had been excluded from jury service based on race.  EJI also reviewed volumes of court records and documents and found evidence of wide-spread, persistent racial discrimination in jury selection.  According to Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s Executive Director, despite efforts by courts to rectify the situation, there remains a substantial indifference to racial bias in the justice system, to the detriment of the entire system.  “The underrepresentation and exclusion of people of color from juries has seriously undermined the credibility and reliability of the criminal justice system, and there is an urgent need to end this practice.”

It’s a problem the Supreme Court tried to tackle in the late 1980′s in Batson v. Kentucky, but, as Stevenson points out, just wont go away.  Part of the problem is that prosecutors have become less obvious in their racial bias, striking African Americans because they appeared to have “low intelligence”, wore eyeglasses, walked a certain way, or dyed their hair.  When these juror strikes were challenged by defense counsel the court stamped them as “race-neutral”.  The fact that there is a lack of consistency among states and counties in the enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that protect racial minorities from illegal jury exclusion only exacerbates this more nuanced and subtle form of bias.

And the numbers don’t lie.  In Houston County, Alabama, for example, 8 out of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from death penalty cases.  In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, EJI found no effective African American representation on the jury in 80 percent of criminal trials.  Given that African Americans are significantly over-represented as defendants in criminal trials, the fact that prosecutors are systematically doing all they can to keep them off of juries should make us all suspicious of conviction rates.

As a result of the study EJI came up with some specific and detailed recommendations that they believe would ensure full representation of people of color on juries throughout the United States within five years.  Among the recommendations that would get the most push back include subjecting prosecutors to fines, penalties, and suspensions if they continue to repeatedly exclude people of color from juries.  EJI recommends establishing community groups to engage in court monitoring that would help hold their district attorney accountable, including routine review of the use of peremptory strikes.

What the EJI report underscores most of all is that our criminal justice system remains racially entrenched, and because of that, the legitimacy of the hard, honest work of hundreds of thousands of people gets called into question.  Our criminal justice system has, at its core, the premise that the rights of the individual should be paramount to the power of the state–it is what informs our Constitution and what informs the statutes supporting that system.  But until these biases are removed, the entire system remains weakened, which ultimately serves no one well.

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photo courtesy of r.s.m.b. Sees via Flickr

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60 comments

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10:18AM PDT on May 23, 2013

This is dark and shameful part of our society. Who want to end peremptory strike and see no minorities are discriminated from juries?!

10:59PM PDT on Jul 5, 2010

Thanks

7:36PM PDT on Jun 9, 2010

Thanks.

8:06PM PDT on Jun 8, 2010

thanks for enlightening us

8:23PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Thanks for the info.

12:54PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

ty

12:14PM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Botyfltiger E,

When you say that if more black jurors were on juries, there would be less black men in prison, just how many black people turn up for jury duty, and how many have an excuse, want equality ? then do not presume that lawyers exclude black people for juries, also ask how many turned up in the first place, and how many tried to get out of it, and just how many lawyers who did this, were black, do not presume racism, because as I have pointed out to you before, the black people are as guilty of this, as the whites, and in their case it has gone on more than a hundred thousand years, against other tribes as well, have you also forgotten in central Africa in the last few years, there were 4,500,000 killed by Hutus, against their neighbours the Tutsis ?

So when a wriiter is sayingf at the same time, that "the rights of an individual are paramount to the US justice system" she is also calling for lawyers to be presumed guilty, without trial, and without facing their accusers, face fines and imprisonment, as result, how can anyone justify this, as being just ?.

Either lawyers are presumed innocent until proven guilty, just as the rest of society is, or they should drop claims to justice, based on individuals rights, completely.

Her article is seriously schizophrenic, and your attempts to drag race into this, where it is not even mentioned by posters, tells me that your agenda would not recognise an "educated" person if they bit you on the backside.

11:52AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Botyfltiger, ER
once again, put up, or shut up , where in any of my postings did I say, or even mention, a white jurors rights to serve on a jury are likely to be curtailed, I did not, and you should read what I said and apologise , becauie I have not written about white jurors I have never even mentioned jurors at all, but about exactly what the writer said, when she said that lawyers should be monitored and fined without recourse to a trial, or the right to face their accusers, while they are to be denied rights common to others of this nation, such as a presumption of innocence, yet she writes at the same time, that the rights of the individuals are paramount, to the interests of US justice, just how is this justice when you define a class of people as guilty, without trial ?, are lawyers to be denied the very rights she says all are to have ? so how can she do both here, she can't and her reasoning, and article are schizophrenic in it's entirety, and she, and you, can not see this ?

11:40AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Botyfltiger E ,

Once again you miss the point here, I can not understand quite how you can constantly misrepresent what I have posted here, but I will type slowly so you can catch up, or try someone who speaks english, to read these postings, to you, because I do not believe for one minute that you are in any way looking for understanding in all of this, in any way, shape, or form, you are just looking to beat your meat in a holier than thou manner, aren't you ?

The point is, that there is no argument that black people are in any way less than white people, as far as racism goes, or that they have any greater claim to sympathy, for something that they indulged in, for thousands of years, before white men traded in slaves, no one is entitled to feel holier than thou in this, and I do not want to hear anyone saying, lawyers are to be presumed to be guilty of this, as a matter of law, which is what the writer asserts, that the lawyers should be tried by statistic, and their rights to a trial, or to be "presumed innocent, until proven guilty" should be removed, as a matter of law, while at the same time asserting that the rights of an individual, are held to be paramount in the American justice system.

You can not have it both ways, the lawyers get the same rights as others accused of misbehaviour under the law or they do not, and if they do not, where is American justice ? no longer even handed for all, anymore, the writer is totally, utterly, barmy in this.

11:23AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

Botyfltiger E,
I have not one objection to people challenging my views here, but I do object when they misrepresent what I say, and then claim a right to be abusive to me, as a consequence, there is no "fault in my logic here", there is a serious flaw in this reporter saying first, "the rights of the individual are paramount to the American justice system" here, and then supporting a decision to decide that a lawyer has chosen deliberately to exclude a black person from a jury because they are black, based on the calculation of how many trials where there were no black jurors present, on the jury, when he presented a case, before a jury, this is "presumption of guilt" on a lawyers part, how is this justice served ?, I repeat how is taking away a persons rights in this situation, to be presumed to be innocent, a proper way to achieve an ethnically balanced jury.

It is not, and the fact that the reporter does not understand this makes her writings on this matter, totally schizophrenic throughout, worse still, she can not see the insanity or illogicality of what she has written, and nor can you, I never mentioned anything about white jurors in the whole of my posting, that you misdescribed, or the possibility that they may be excluded, it was not even an issue here, not once.

Go, read it properly, next time, before you go off half cocked, the issue is entirely in your mind, not mine, and it was not even in the writers posting either, amazing you missed all of this.

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