Thursday, 7 June 2007

Jury Strikes and Racial Bias

Although the Supreme Court struck down race-based strikes of potential jurors more than two decades ago in Batson v. Kentucky, the decision has fallen short of its goal. For example, in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, a recent study has revealed that potential black jurors are struck three times as often as white jurors in the parish.

This does not include the jurors struck for being unable to follow death penalty law by the judge. A Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center review of 390 felony jury trials in the parish from 1994 to 2002 found that none of the 20 murder trials in the area, which has a population that is 23% black, since the Batson decision has had a proportionately representative number of black jurors.

A closer look at 18 Jefferson Parish murder trials for which the race of jurors is available found that 10 had no black members, seven had one black member, and one had two black jurors. "Not one gets to what should be the average," said Richard Bourke, the acting director of the Center, who notes that you might expect to see about 3 black jurors on each 12-member panel.According to a New York Times column by Adam Liptak, this pattern of racial bias may have resulted in a death sentence for Allen Snyder, who was tried for murder by an all-white jury in Jefferson Parish.

In Snyder's case, prosecutors were influential in having all nine potential black jurors removed, four with cause and five utilizing peremptory strikes. Snyder has now filed a second appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court raising questions about the constitutionality of his trial. In response to his first appeal, the Justices sent his case back to the Louisiana Supreme Court, ordering the judges to take a hard look at how jury selection had been conducted. After a second review of the case, the Louisiana Supreme Court again ruled against Snyder.At the time of the Batson decision, Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote that the ruling would not end the prevalence of race-based jury selection, while an end to peremptory strikes altogether could.

(New York Times, June 4, 2007).

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