Photo of Bryan StevensonOn June 1 the Equal Justice Initiative, directed by Professor Bryan Stevenson, released a report, “Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy,” containing evidence that potential jurors continue to be excluded from juries because of their race through the use of peremptory strikes by prosecutors, even though such practices were outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1875.

Over the course of two years in eight southern states, EJI reviewed hundreds of court documents and interviewed more than 100 African Americans who had been excluded from juries due to racial bias. According to the report, some have been struck from juries for stated reasons such as “low intelligence,” wearing glasses, manner of walking, and residing in a predominantly black neighborhood. Alabama’s appellate courts have found racial discrimination in jury selection in 25 death penalty cases in recent years. In one of that state’s counties, 80 percent of African American potential jurors were struck from death penalty cases between 2005 and 2009. EJI also found evidence that some district attorney’s offices teach prosecutors how to strike racial minorities from juries in a way that seems race-neutral. EJI's study of racial bias in jury selection is the most comprehensive since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky (1986) that prosecutors' peremptory challenges could not be solely race-based.

“The underrepresentation 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,” Stevenson said. “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.”

The EJI report recommends thorough enforcement of anti-discrimination laws bearing on jury selection; penalties for prosecutors found to have engaged in discriminatory exclusions; monitoring of court proceedings and officials’ conduct by community groups, civil and human rights organizations, and citizens; greater diversity in the judiciary, district attorneys’ offices, the defense bar, and law enforcement; and state action to ensure diversity in jury pools, among other remedies.

Posted on June 8, 2010