It’s no secret that most American juries underrepresent African-American women and men.
But according to a New York Times report, prosecutors in Shreveport, Louisiana are excluding potential Black jurors three times as often as jurors of another race by using peremptory challenges — an action that does not require attorneys to offer an explanation unless they are accused of racial bias in picking jurors. But the Supreme Court exception does little to ensure Black jurors are carrying out their civic duty, as an attorney can give the simplest of justifications to support their decision.
From the NYT:
Here are some reasons prosecutors have offered for excluding blacks from juries: They were young or old, single or divorced, religious or not, failed to make eye contact, lived in a poor part of town, had served in the military, had a hyphenated last name, displayed bad posture, were sullen, disrespectful or talkative, had long hair, wore a beard.
“Stupid reasons are O.K.,” said Shari S. Diamond, an expert on juries at Northwestern University School of Law. Ones offered in bad faith are not.
In Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, where Shreveport is the parish seat, a study to be released Monday has found that prosecutors used peremptory challenges three times as often to strike black potential jurors as others during the last decade.
The exclusion is not exclusive to Shreveport. In fact, the pattern is consistent with those of other states like Alabama, North Carolina, and Georgia, where “prosecutors excluded every black prospective juror in a death penalty case against a black defendant,” the Times writes.
The Supreme Court is reviewing the latter this fall. The discovery is shining new light on the racial bias that takes place within jury selection — a practice that both denies Black people their basic civil rights and aids in the number of convictions against defendants presented in front of a jury that does not represent their peers.
“If you repeatedly see all-white juries convict African-Americans, what does that do to public confidence in the criminal justice system?” asked Elisabeth A. Semel, the director of the death penalty clinic at the law school at the University of California, Berkeley.
Prosecutors, however, say peremptory challenges “promote fairness.”
But many prosecutors and defense lawyers said peremptory strikes allow them to use instinct and strategy to shape unbiased and receptive juries. “I’m looking for people who will be open, at least, to my arguments,” said Joshua Marquis, the district attorney in Astoria, Ore.
Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender, said peremptory challenges promote fairness. “You’re going to remove people who are biased against your client,” he said, “and the district attorney is going to remove jurors who are biased against police officers or the government.”
The numbers, arguably, do not read as “unbiased.” Prosecutors in Houston and Henry Counties in Alabama were said to use the strikes to remove 82 percent of eligible Black jurors from trials where the death penalty was imposed, according to this lawsuit. And while “opposition to the death penalty is much more common among black people,” according to Kent S. Scheidegger, a lawyer with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation (a factor that could lead attorneys to exclude Black jurors in the hopes of curving a case), the sheer number of Blacks excluded from juries reveals a dark history of red-lining minorities due to skin color.
To see the full report, click here.
SOURCE: NYT | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty
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