Some thoughts on racial discrimination during peremptory strikes in death penalty cases
1776: „...all men are created equal“ (Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence)
1954: Brown vs. Board of Education: U.S. Supreme Court bans racial segregation in public schools.
1961: On May 4th, the first of what later came to be known as the The Freedom Rides took place to test the US Supreme Court's ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations unconstitutional.
1963: „I have a dream“ – public speech by Martin Luther King Jr. in which he called for racial equality and an end to discrimination.
1964: President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act; discrimination based on "race, color, religion, or national origin" in employment practices and public accommodations is banned.
1965: President Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act
1986: US Supreme Court rules in Batson v. Kentucky that while prosecutors may reject potential jurors without giving a reason during jury selection using peremptory challenge, they may not exclude them because of race, and may need to provide the non-racial reason for their exclusion to the judge.
2010: Study finds that blacks are still blocked from southern juries.
A new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, AL, found that the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread. And it seems that nobody is even interested in this since most of the cases remain unchecked.
Racial discrimination during peremptory strikes is unconstitutional, nevertheless it still exists. Studies found that there are counties in Alabama where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.
The Supreme Court decided that if a pattern of discrimination emerged during peremptory strikes, lawyers must provide nonracial reasons for their strikes. The reason does not have to be "persuasive, or even plausible," the Supreme Court ruled in a later case. It is up to the judge to decide if there was deliberate discrimination.
Racial discrimination is illegal but who cares if there are other, really simple possibilities of getting rid of blacks in juries anyway? Instead of telling the court you stuck a potential jury member for his race, simply state that your decision was based on the neighborhood he lives in or because they are a single parent…
Let us not be carried away by rage, but rather, remain fair! After all, it’s not the poor prosecutor's fault that black people make inconvenient jurors in death penalty cases! Studies have shown that racially diverse juries deliberate longer, consider a wider variety of perspectives and make fewer factual errors than all-white juries. Additionally, predominantly black juries are less likely to impose the death penalty.
The needy prosecutor has to win the death penalty case at any cost or he risks his re-election. So he simply doesn’t have any other choice but try to get rid of these awful people, does he?
We don’t live in the 18th century any more, but in the third millennium.
Racial discrimination belongs to the dark times of the past. Perhaps it’s time for some people in the south to wake up and recognize the same.
"All men are created equal" – more than 230 years after Jefferson wrote these words, they should finally come true … even in the southern states of the USA.
Please read "Study Finds Blacks Blocked From Southern Juries" in the NY Times.