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Race in the Jury Selection Procedure: Recent Criminal Cases

January 5, 2022

By Alyssa Nekritz

About 15% of the adult American population gets a jury summons for federal or state courts trials each year. The jury selection pool includes individuals over 18 who have a driver’s license and are registered to vote. Frequent complaints are raised that people of color are underrepresented in jury pools due to the exclusion of those who have committed a crime, jury service not being financially feasible, and continued reliance on obsolete and ineffective methods of communication with prospective jurors.

Potential jurors are then asked questions to assess their biases and ability to use evidence to determine a case. This process is called voir dire. Lawyers can dismiss jurors with a peremptory challenge for any reason except race, ethnicity, or gender, but trial judges are not particularly well-positioned to monitor and prevent discrimination during voir dire.  Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court eliminated peremptory challenges entirely. The Arizona Supreme Court’s Task Force followed up with recommendations on proper jury selection procedure. Other states have enacted rules requiring judges to use more objective criteria to determine whether peremptory challenges were used to remove prospective jurors improperly on the basis of race.

A brief review of jury selection in recent high-profile cases found:

  • Ahmaud Arbery – There were accusations of striking jurors on the basis of race. The jury composition was one Black juror and eleven White jurors.
  • Kyle Rittenhouse – Jurors were selected when Rittenhouse drew six slips of paper from a box to choose the alternate jurors.
  • Derek ChauvinJurors were interviewed after the verdict about the pressure and experience.
  • GhislaineMaxwellNCSC reported that Maxwell requested to have a private viewing of the jury selection.

The jury selection process, especially after media coverage of high-profile cases, often gets scrutinized. Multiple reports have found that jury racial composition affects how jurors interpret the evidence and decide cases.

Some states have been taking steps towards making the selection process increasingly fair and impartial.  How does your court ensure impartiality in jury selection? Follow NCSC on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Vimeo and share your experiences.

For more information, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.