“From 2005 to 2009, in cases where the death penalty has been imposed, prosecutors in Houston County, Alabama, have used peremptory strikes to remove 80 percent of the African American qualified for jury service,” the advocacy group said.
For its report, EJI interviewed 100 people who were struck from juries and studied law books from eight southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Some of the arguments for excluding black prospective jurors included “stupid,” “low intelligence,” “lack of education,” “she’s chewing gum,” “she wore eyeglasses and a large hat,” “he’s single,” “he’s married,” “he’s separated,” “he looks like a dealer,” “tentative and timid,” “he seems odd to me,” and “he lives in a high crime area.”
“Although in every state there is evidence of general indifference to the seriousness of excluding people from jury service on the basis of race… some states seem particularly resistant to enforcing every citizen’s right to serve on a jury,” said EJI Director Bryan Stevenson.
In Tennessee, for example, all complaints over jury composition from convicted felons have been dismissed by the courts.
The US Supreme Court in 1986 ruled to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection, but only required prosecutors to produce “race-neutral” arguments for peremptory strikes, leaving the judge to decide on their appropriateness.
Since then, prosecutors in the south have come up with different ways of sidestepping the law and training sessions are even held on how to present unassailable arguments in court.
The result is that entirely white juries are selected in counties with populations that are more than one third black.
Most studies have found that mixed juries take longer to deliberate and make fewer mistakes in judgement. Black jurors have also been found to be less inclined to vote for the death penalty.