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US study finds widespread racial discrimination in jury selection in South

A report [text, PDF] released Tuesday by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) [advocacy website] details continued widespread racial discrimination in jury selection in Southern states. EJI conducted research in eight southern states over a two-year period and found that the practice of striking members from a jury based on race remains common, particularly in serious criminal cases and death penalty cases. The report details reasons given by prosecutors for the dismissal of African Americans from juries including "because they appeared to have 'low intelligence,' wore eyeglasses, walked in a certain way, and dyed their hair." EJI called the reasons given for dismissal "pretextual" and blamed the courts for "rubber-stamping" the reasons as race-neutral. The report also presents evidence that some district attorney's offices explicitly train prosecutors to exclude people from juries based on race and teach them how to present the reason for exclusion in an unbiased manner. EJI's Executive Director Bryan Stevenson commented on the report stating [press release]:

The underrepresenation 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. 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 report also offered recommendations to remedy the problem, including enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws and subjecting prosecutors who routinely exclude potential jurors based on race to fines, suspensions and other consequences. It also called on states to strengthen procedures to ensure racial minorities are fully represented in jury pools.

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] tried to limit the practice of racial discrimination in jury selection in the 1986 case of Batson v. Kentucky [opinion text]. Baston held that a defendant has no right to a jury composed of members of his own race, but also held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment [text] guarantees a defendant that potential jurors will not be excluded from jury service based on race.

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