Racial Bias Within United States Criminal Justice (Part Two)

Part Two: Racial Bias During Jury Selection

     The promise of receiving a fair trial from a jury of your peers is frequently denied to those in minority groups with numerous consequences.  A study cited by an article published to the Yale Law Journal found perceptions of race and gender by the prosecution and defence are the most accurate predictors of their use of peremptory challenges, which can remove jurors from the jury pool without a proven cause or review from the judge (Revesz 2541).  There are numerous analyses supporting the damaging role of racial bias during jury selection. A North Carolina judge found prosecutors in his state struck black jurors at twice the rate of other jurors (Edelman, par. 13). Similarly, a study conducted by the Equal Justice Initiative evaluating eight southern states found blacks are disproportionately blocked from participating on juries by peremptory strikes (Edelman, par. 4 – 5).  One extreme example is Houston County, Alabama, where half of juries that delivered death sentences were all white even though the county is 27% black (Edelman, par. 12). The other half always had a single black juror, which is still only one- twelfth of the jury. All of these data points demonstrate the role that racial stereotypes play in determining the composition of juries. Because people with different racial and ethnic backgrounds tend to have different life experiences, it is vital that they are present on juries so that more perspectives are included during deliberation.  More simply, it cannot be said that someone is receiving a fair trial judged by a jury of their peers when their peers are not present. The threat posed by white-dominated juries is supported with experiments conducted on mock juries finding they “spend less time deliberating, make more factual mistakes, and are more likely to convict a minority defendant than racially diverse juries” demonstrating the need for greater racial diversity on juries (Edelman, par. 15). There have been attempts at resolving this issue, but none have succeeded.

     The most prominent example of this is the Supreme Court ruling Batson v. Kentucky issued in 1986 (Morrison 4).  The ruling required that when challenged, any attorney using a peremptory strike would need to provide a “race neutral” basis to justify eliminating that person from the jury.  Unfortunately, as the evidence above has demonstrated, Batson has failed to curtail biased jury selection. This is because almost any reason can be used as long as it is “race neutral”.  Any reason. Adam Liptak, a Yale Law School graduate writing for The New York Times, listed some of the most absurd reasons that have successfully justified peremptory strikes:

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. (Liptak, par. 1)

     None of these are connected to the ability of jurors to fairly adjudicate the outcome of a trial, but the massive scope of permissible peremptory strike justifications means that attorneys can usually find something “race neutral”, even if they are poor reasons.  Liptak goes on to explain that there are even places where prosecutors have created lists of possible “race neutral” reasons to employ as defenses if any of their peremptory strikes are challenged for having racial motivations (Liptak, par. 29). The failure of the Batson v. Kentucky ruling was poignantly summarized by attorney Raymond Brown when he stated that there is not “any such thing as a racially neutral ‘anything’ in America” (qtd. in Morrison).  Thus, solutions beyond the Supreme Court ruling issued in Batson v. Kentucky are needed. These will require more substantial changes to the conduction of jury selection.


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