If you’ve ever tried a case in federal or state court, you know that picking a “jury of your peers” is often a challenge for all. Sometimes, otherwise qualified prospective jurors say that they have conflicts with their schedules, while others are all too happy to feel like they are participating in a Law & Order episode. (Lifted from a real-life experience.)
But there’s a bigger issue in play too — jury diversity.
What does it really mean to have a jury of our peers? And is jury diversity still an issue?
These will be among the issues that will be on the table in an “In Community” program that my law firm is producing on September 27, 2017 along with the George W. Crawford Black Bar Association. I sit on the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion committee and have been among the people charged with pulling this together. I’m excited to see this program come together.
You can find more information about the program here.
The panel includes:
- The Honorable Victor A. Bolden, United States District Judge, District of Connecticut
- Allison M. Near, Partner and Litigator, Sheehan, Reeve & Near, LLC
- Edward P. Schwartz, Ph.D., Jury Consultant, DecisionQuest
- Robert R. Simpson, Partner and Litigator, Shipman & Goodwin LLP
- James W. Bergenn, Moderator, Partner and Litigator, Shipman & Goodwin LLP
For those that think the issue is one of the past, I need only point you to a September 5th concurring decision at the Appellate Court by Judge Douglas Lavine.
The case is a criminal one, State v. Holmes, but the notion that the process of peremptory challenges in picking juries is working smoothly is one that he takes issue with.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Batson years ago, which held that removing potential jury members is unconstitutional, only is the start of a solution, not the end point:
It is my view, however, that no amount of judicial diligence and oversight can remedy a problem that has become embedded in the Batson procedure itself unless that procedure is revised. I write separately because this case brings into sharp relief a serious flaw in the way Batson has been, and can be, applied. Batson is designed to prevent lawyers from peremptorily challenging prospective jurors for manifestly improper reasons based on race, national origin, and the like.
It was not designed to permit prosecutors—and other lawyers—to challenge members of suspect classes solely because they hold widely shared beliefs within the prospective juror’s community that are based on life experiences.
This flaw is in plain sight for all to see and must be remedied if the jury selection process is to attain the goal of producing juries representing all of the communities in our state and gaining their confidence and trust. I believe a blatant flaw that significantly disadvantages black defendants—and people belonging to other suspect classes—has become part of the Batson process itself. I conclude that Connecticut should reform its jury selection process to eliminate the perverse way in which Batson has come to be used.
The panel discussion later this month will address these and other issues.
For employers, jury trials are becoming rare; but jury diversity is essential to ensuring that justice is administered fairly. Ultimately, everyone involved in the system should be supportive of.