Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Jude jury

While I agree with Owen and others that it is unwise to fetishize the racial composition of a jury, it's impossible not to believe that the selection of an all-white jury in the Jude case is unfortunate.

It would have helped community perception if, instead of just reporting the judge's "unhappiness" and statement that "we are stuck with the law," the paper would have explained the law we are stuck with.

Lawyers get a certain number of peremptory challenges when a jury is being empaneled. You just strike who you do not want. You don't have to explain why and, in practice, the reasons are usually pretty subjective. You might not have liked an answer during voir dire (the questioning of the jurors). You might not have liked the tone of an answer. Or how somebody looked. It is not uncommon for lawyers to rely on stereotypes in exercising these challenges. Recently, my priest was called for jury duty. I told her that she was unlikely to be selected and she wasn't. Either she would be viewed by the prosecution as too apt to "forgive" or by both sides as too risky because she might have extraordinary moral authority in the jury room. Lose her and you lose everyone. That's not very scientific, but that's the way it is.

However, you can't exercise these peremptory challenges to purposefully exclude jurors on the basis of race. So once the challenges had removed the last two African-Americans from the panel and the issue was raised, the defense lawyers did have to explain why they exercised these challenges. They did so and the judge was convinced, not that the challenges were the best a lawyer could make, but that they were not exercised for the purpose of excluding blacks.

Once he found that, the inquiry was over because no one has a right to a jury of any particular racial composition.

Still, this is not going to help race relations if the defendants are acquitted. That's just a sad fact.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Agreed, counselor.