Thursday, September 09, 2010

Still Discriminated Against in Jury Selection in South

The history of the South is replete with documented practices of prejudice and racial discrimination. From slavery to the Black Codes, Jim Crow to segregation, the general tenor was to implement practices that placed white people as being pure and close to God and African Americans as being less than human and akin to livestock. Those days have changed, or have they?

A new report published and released by the Equal Justice Initiave called “Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy,"paints a different picture. The two-year study was conducted in eight southern states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee), and includes interviews with more than 100 African Americans who had be absolved from jury duty. In addition, the study looked at historical court records to complete its report. Findings of the study suggest that the "variation among states and counties concerning enforcement of anti-discrimination laws that protect racial minorities from illegal exclusion" is wide, and that defense lawyers often fail to present adequate challenges regarding racially discriminatory jury selection.

The report also supports the notion that racially biased use of preemptory strikes with regards to jury selection is a prevelant practice in the South, even noting that prosecutors have removed African Americans for reasons ranging from appearing to have “low intelligence,” wearing eyeglasses, and even having dyed their hair. In some communities such as in Houston County, Alabama, 8 out of 10 African Americans who qualified for jury service have been struck by prosecutors from death penalty cases. Likewise, in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, African Americans have no representation on the jury in approximatelly 80 percent of criminal trials.

These findings are serious and show the slow nature of change in the United States, especially in the South. Although we may have an African American president, America is still super-saturated by race. These findings come more than 130 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was passed by Congress to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection. The objective fact is that race is still a major construct in the judicial process of America.


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