The myth of a fair jury: how racial bias excludes Black jurors

Across the country Black jurors are left off the jury benches, leaving defendants to face overwhelming white juries to decide their fate, a new report from EJI

We go to Equal Justice Initiative for this week’s study, “RACE AND THE JURY: Illegal Discrimination in Jury Selection.”

“Many jurisdictions continued to exclude Black potential jurors by saying that they lacked the requisite “intelligence, experience, or moral integrity to serve, and lawyers continued to remove Black jurors using peremptory strikes.”

  • 40% of Americans are people of color but 95% of elected prosecutors are white.

  • 22 states currently have all-white supreme courts. 

    • This includes 11 states in which people of color comprise at least 20% of the population.

  • The Alabama Supreme Court has had only 3 African American justices—2 of whom were the only African Americans ever elected to a statewide office in Alabama

  • Native Americans make up 28% of the population in Alaska and 15% in New Mexico. 

    • However, no Native American has ever served on the supreme court in either state

    • Nationally, only 3 Native Americans have ever served on a state supreme court, 2 of whom were appointed in 2019

  • One factor contributing to the underrepresentation of people of color in jury selections are their presence in the source lists (i.e. voter registration databases). 

    • “A 2005 study in Wisconsin found that while about 80% of white residents had driver’s licenses, only about half of African American and Latino residents had them.”

  • For a court to find that a group is significantly underrepresented, the absolute disparity typically must be greater than 10%.

    • This is problematic because  if a group constitutes less than 10% of the population, courts will uphold even the most blatant and intentional exclusion of every member of that group

  • An average of 12% of jury summons are returned as “undeliverable.” 

    • This is because people with low income levels, who are more likely to move frequently, have a higher rate of undeliverable summonses than middle or high income people.

  • Potential jurors who meet the qualifications can still be excluded if a judge holds they cannot be fair and impartial. A process known as “for cause”

    • “A study involving 1,300 felony trials and almost 30,000 prospective jurors throughout North Carolina found that trial judges were 30% more likely to remove prospective jurors of color for cause than white prospective jurors.”

  • A study of California between 2006 and 2018 found that prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to remove Black jurors in nearly 72% of cases while using peremptory strikes against white jurors in less than 1% of cases

  • The Georgia Supreme Court consistently refused to find that Black prospective jurors were discriminated against, even where the prosecution used 80% of its strikes to remove Black jurors

“Research demonstrates that white jurors are more likely to view Black defendants as cold-hearted, remorseless, and dangerous.”

Read the whole study here

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