Whereas some Individuals could marvel why they’re requested to carry out jury obligation, juries are an indispensable a part of making certain equity in trials. But, though the Sixth Modification to the U.S. Structure guarantees a public trial by an neutral jury, this promise is a false one for a lot of Black folks charged with crimes.
Throughout jury choice — a course of referred to as “voir dire” — each the prosecution and protection can strike potential jurors they consider are unfit to serve. Attorneys can justify a juror strike utilizing a number of causes, together with citing biases that may cloud a person’s means to supply a good verdict. These strikes are known as challenges for trigger. Nevertheless, attorneys on both sides are additionally given a set variety of peremptory challenges the place they aren’t required to clarify why they’d like a particular juror struck from the roster. Whereas peremptory challenges are restricted, prosecutors usually abuse this course of to strike Black jurors — significantly when the defendant is Black — although it’s unlawful to strike a juror primarily based on their race or ethnicity.
In one of the egregious and notorious examples of this type of systemic discrimination, former Mississippi District Lawyer Doug Evans struck Black jurors 4.4 times more frequently than white jurors over the course of his almost 30-year profession. Underneath Evans’ authority, defendant Curtis Flowers, who’s Black, confronted six trials for a similar cost, every leading to a hung jury or a reversed conviction as a result of prosecutorial misconduct. Throughout these six trials, Evans eliminated 41 of 42 potential Black jurors and struck them 20 instances extra continuously than white jurors.
When Flowers’ case was delivered to the Supreme Court docket, LDF filed an amicus brief condemning the exclusion of Black Individuals from an important a part of the democratic course of. In 2019, the Supreme Court docket reversed Flowers’ conviction and condemned Evans’ use of racist peremptory strikes, instituting protections towards putting potential jurors primarily based on race.
“The Flowers story is a strong reminder that discrimination is alive and effectively within the legal authorized system proper now. We can’t fake it’s some form of unlucky chapter from American historical past that we’ve now moved past,” remarks LDF Deputy Director of Litigation Chris Kemmitt. “It continues to pervade our legal authorized system — and never simply implicit bias, however open, bare racism.”
Kemmitt provides, “The Flowers trials additionally illustrate simply how necessary it’s to cease prosecutors from utilizing their peremptory challenges to focus on and take away Black potential jurors. Regardless that the state’s proof towards Curtis Flowers was weak and unconvincing, each time the district lawyer was capable of take away all the Black jurors or all however one of many Black jurors, the jury voted to convict regardless of the shortage of proof. However any time the jury had two or extra Black jurors, a few of these jurors adopted the proof and voted to acquit.”