Study finds race still impacts jury selection

By Correy Stephenson

The Daily Record Newswire

A recent study found that racial exclusion in jury selection - particularly in capital and other serious felony cases - remains common.

The report, "Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy," was released by the Equal Justice Initiative, an organization that provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners.

"In courtrooms across the United States, people of color are dramatically underrepresented on juries as a result of racially biased use of peremptory strikes," Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Initiative and author of the report, said in a statement.

"Most communities have failed to make juries inclusive and representative of all who have a right to serve."

The report studied jury selection in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee over two years, using court documents, records and interviews with African-American citizens who were excluded from jury service based on race.

Stevenson said the report is the most comprehensive study of bias in jury selection since the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

The court banned the use of race-based peremptory strikes of potential jurors in Batson, although race-neutral strikes remain legal.

According to the report, prosecutors now rely upon allegedly race-neutral reasons for striking potential minority jurors that are pretextual, like exhibiting "low intelligence," having dyed hair or because they walked a certain way.

The report claims that some district attorney's offices explicitly train prosecutors to exclude racial minorities from juries and teach them how to mask racial bias, and that many defense lawyers are uncomfortable, unwilling, unprepared or not trained to challenge racially discriminatory jury selection.

The report offers several recommendations, including increased enforcement of anti-discrimination laws to prevent racially biased jury selection, the imposition of fines and penalties for prosecutors who repeatedly exclude people of color from jury service and the retroactive application of Batson's ban on racially discriminatory peremptory strikes for death row prisoners and others who were tried and convicted prior to 1986.

Published: Thu, Jul 1, 2010