Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Jim Crow alive and well and pickin' juries...

The New York Times had an article yesterday reporting on a study by the Equal Justice Initiative which documents how widespread the practice still is in the south of excluding blacks and other minorities from serving on juries.

Excluding jurors based on race has been a legal no-no since 1875. Anyone actually think that's been adhered to? Anyone? Bueller?

Since 1986, when SCOTUS decided the case of Batson v. Kentucky, lawyers have been able to request a hearing on "Batson" challenges to the striking of jurors once the jury was selected, but before actually swearing in the jury. What happens at these hearings, is the challenging party can demand that the challenged party provide "non-racial" reasons for why they struck a juror. However, the Court later ruled in Purkett v. Elem (1995) that the reason does not have to be "persuasive, or even plausible." For instance, the Times article pointed out that in late April, in a trial in Madison County, Alabama, the prosecutor struck 11 of 14 potential black jurors in a capital murder case. The reasons given by DA Robert Broussard? One "seemed arrogant" and "pretty vocal."

In another, Broussard "detected hostility" (huh...wonder why?). Broussard questioned the "sophistication" of several potential jurors, including one woman who was a retired Department of Defense program analyst. Despite having held such a career through retirement, she wasn't "sophisticated" enough for Broussard because she had spelled one of her previous employers in a questionnaire as "Wal-marts" instead of just Wal-Mart.

Anyone who was bright enough to pass the bar should be able to come up with a "non-racial" excuse for striking a juror. But, 'Pine, you ask...what's it matter?

Studies have shown that racially diverse juries deliberate longer, consider a wider variety of perspectives and make fewer factual errors than all-white juries, and that predominantly black juries are less likely to impose the death penalty.

It matters because race is still an issue in this country that effects us consciously and unconsciously every day. To truly arrive at a fair and just verdict, we need the whole views of our communities represented on our juries.

As our literary hero, Atticus Finch, once said:

The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he
any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments
right into a jury box. As you grow older, you'll see white men cheat black men
every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don't you forget it -
whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he
is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.

Amen, Brother Finch. Amen.

Hattip, Savitz.

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