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Study: Minority Jurors Still Elusive Down South
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A two-year study of jury selections in eight Southern states found the exclusion of blacks and other minorities remains a widespread practice in the region.

The study, conducted by the non-profit Equal Justice Initiative, found racially-biased use of peremptory strikes and illegal racial discrimination was particularly prevalent in jury selection in serious criminal cases and capital cases. EJI found hundreds of people of color called were excluded from jury service after prosecutors asserted pretextual reasons to justify their removal.

“The underrepresenation and exclusion of people of color from juries has seriously undermined the credibility and reliability of the criminal justice system, and there is an urgent need to end this practice,” said Bryan Stevenson, EJI’s Executive Director. “While courts sometimes have attempted to remedy the problem of discriminatory jury selection, in too many cases today we continue to see indifference to racial bias.”

  
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EJI interviewed over 100 African American citizens and reviewed hundreds of court documents and records in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee to support the findings.

In some communities, the exclusion of African Americans from juries was found by the EJI to be extreme. The organization cites Houston County, Ala., where eight of 10 African Americans qualified for jury service were struck by prosecutors from death penalty cases.

In other findings, the EJI claims defense lawyers failed to challenge racially discriminatory jury selection “because they are uncomfortable, unwilling, unprepared, or not trained to assert claims of racial bias.” It was also found there is a wide variation among states and counties concerning enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that protect racial minorities from illegal exclusion.

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The EJI concluded the study with several recommendations that would ensure full representation of people of color on juries throughout the U.S. within five years. They include a dedicated and thorough enforcement of anti-discrimination laws; subjecting fines and penalties to prosecutors that repeatedly exclude people of color; and greater support from the criminal defense bar in providing training and assistance to ensure state officials do not exclude people of color.

Additionally, the rule banning racially discriminatory use of peremptory strikes announced in Batson V. Kentucky should be applied retroactively to death row prisoners with lengthy sentences that it’s believed were the product of illegal, racially-biased jury selection, but whose claims have not been reviewed because they were tried before 1986.





 

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