The constitution guarantees us a jury of our peers in criminal matters. It is one of the most fundamental constitutional rights that we have. But our judicial system is also intended to be racially blind, and selecting jurors based on race or nationality is prohibited. Often these two seemingly contradictory principles collide, as they did recently in a case that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
African-American Jurors Stricken From Jury
The case involved an African-American man who was convicted in Georgia of murdering an elderly white woman. The jury was made up of jurors who were all white. The four African-American potential jurors, were eliminated from the jury before the trial. Twenty years after the conviction, the man’s attorneys argued to the Supreme Court that the selection of that jury was racially based.
As support, the attorneys presented notes made by the prosecutor trying the case, which allegedly had indications notating the race of each potential juror. Prosecutors allegedly highlighted the names of African-American jurors on their notes, and made notations that certain jurors “may be OK.”
Jury Selection and Race
There is no guarantee that a white person gets an all-white jury, or that an African-American person gets an all-white jury. Additionally, the fact that a jury may be a completely different race than the defendant on trial, is not by itself evidence that race was involved in the jury selection, or that the trial was unfair. Put simply, the law does not presume jurors of one race are skewed for or against a defendant of a different race.
This means that in the process of choosing jurors from a large jury pool, parties are not permitted to strike jurors on the basis of race. But not every juror needs to be stricken with any explanation. Parties in trial generally are entitled to strike a certain number of jurors without giving a reason. Critics of the jury system say that this allows jury selection to be racially biased.
Case Reach May Be Limited
Of course, in most cases, there is no way of knowing why someone strikes a juror—usually, notes from the other side are not obtained as they were in this case. In fact, many prosecutors, aware of the risks of having a prosecution overturned, may be likely not to make notes when it comes to jury selection. And because you cannot just presume racial discrimination just because a jury is all one color or nationality, the ruling in this case may not have a far-reaching effect.
The ruling does not overturn the conviction. Rather, it just means that the man convicted now has a right to go back to the state court that convicted him, and argue for a new trial, a right he would not have had without this decision. It certainly will help his argument that the Supreme Court ruled in his favor.
Make sure your constitutional rights are protected from arrest to trial. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights in the criminal justice system.