NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

JURIES AND RACE: REFORM SELECTION PROCESS TO ENSURE FAIR TRIALS

August 23, 2005

Justice is supposed to be color-blind but jury selection in Dallas County doesn't seem to be. This is a key issue raised by a two-year Dallas Morning News investigation of jury selection in Dallas County. The three-part series found that prosecutors and defense attorneys routinely produce juries that reflect troubling racial patterns.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in the landmark 1986 case Batson vs. Kentucky, ruled that lawyers cannot use race to screen prospective jurors.

  • Yet Dallas County prosecutors bounce prospective black jurors at more than twice the rate that they exclude whites.
  • Defense attorneys here are three times more likely to reject white jurors than black jurors.

A few reforms are in order, says the News:

  • Texas allows defense and prosecutors 10 peremptory challenges, or opportunities to exclude would-be jurors, and this number is higher than most states allow; many legal scholars warn that so many challenges make it easier for attorneys to manipulate jury makeup.
  • Texas is the only state to allow defense attorneys and prosecutors to "shuffle" the order in which prospective jurors are interviewed, a tactic that can dramatically change the racial makeup of a jury by moving jurors of one race ahead of another.
  • If a juror previously acquitted a defendant, it's less likely that a prosecutor -- after reviewing that person's "juror history" on a database available only to prosecutors -- will approve him for another trial.

Despite U.S. Supreme Court safeguards intended to ensure race-neutral jury selection, there still seems to be a troubling racial pattern in Dallas County's criminal justice system. The practices are sufficiently flagrant for experts and scholars to question whether the fundamental constitutional guarantee of a right to a fair trial is being protected, says the News.

Source: Editorial, "Juries and Race: Reform selection process to ensure fair trials," Dallas Morning News, August 23, 2005.

 

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