Adam Liptak recently reported in the New York Times that racial strike patterns in jury selection is widespread – and often without consequence.
In the days before Batson v. Kentucky(1985) when I was trying cases for the Public Defender and Joseph Donahue was an Assistant County Prosecutor in Newark New Jersey we (defenders and prosecutors) with scarcely a second thought peremptorily struck jurors on the basis of their race and gender. Blacks were routinely stricken by the prosecutors, and we struck anyone who had a third cousin who was a cop, or was Italian from a town we considered racist.
When we once got the bright idea to object – in a case where Joe (now Judge) Donohue was the prosecutor – the judge brushed our objection aside saying “I will not have attorneys in my courtroom accusing each other like that”. Now – over 30 years later – an Appellate Division panel in New Jersey has reversed car jacking convictions won in Donohue’s courtroom, In a pointed message they instructed the judge and prosecutor that a casual attitude toward racial prejudice is unacceptable. The lesson is as apt for civil cases as it is for criminal cases.
The harm of sterotyping is not merely to the parties – plaintiff or defendant. As Louisiana attorney James Doyle argued to the Supreme Court in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete [501 U.S. 614 (1991)] the insult, the equal protection violation, extends to the excluded juror, as this film from the Annenberg Center explains.
The Rules of Professional Conduct provide little guidance. In fact the Comments to MRPC 8.4 specifically state that a judge’s finding that a peremptory challenge was “exercised on a discriminatory basis does not alone establish a violation of this rule.” Does such a soft touch explain in part Judge Donohue’s “we all have some prejudice in us” approach?
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court in State of New Jersey v. Brown the Appellate Division has reversed two convictions for first degree carjacking
“because the trial judge failed to remove a deliberating juror who disclosed her racial bias to two of her fellow jurors and to the judge. Specifically, on the second day of deliberations, Juror 4 told Jurors 5 and 12 she was “concerned” and “nervous” because she had seen two African-American men that morning in the neighborhood where she lives. Juror 4 noted, “[t]hey certainly don’t live around there, and they don’t hang around there.” Juror 5, who works in that area, agreed that this seemed strange because that area “mostly is Italian and White people. There really are no Black people around there.” Because both defendants are African-American, Juror 4 feared the presence of two African-American men in her neighborhood may have had some kind of sinister connection to the trial.”
Jurors 5 and 12 enouraged her to express her concerns – which she did to the Sheriff’s officer who advised the judge Joseph Donohue. After perfunctory questioning of jury number 4 the judge ruled on the motion to remove the juror, saying in open court in the presence of the jury:
I want to make one comment, and I’ve already ruled on this, but in terms of creating the record, there’s been an expression by [Juror 4] — and also [Juror 5] to a certain extent – – expressed some racial consciousness and potential racism by their comments. However, what they both said was that the circumstances were unusual, that the area in which they were, it would be unusual for someone who was Black to be in that area. I can’t say — I can’t say that myself. I don’t know whether any counsel can say it, but these individuals said that that was unusual. And [Juror 4] expressed some initial concerns with it. I don’t think that that’s even an expression of racism. [(Emphasis added).]
The Appellate Division harsh in its assessment of the judge:
These remarks coming from a sitting judge in a criminal trial are plainly inappropriate under any circumstances, but especially when they are uttered in a trial involving two African American defendants. A juror’s expression of “racial consciousness and potential racism” must be immediately repudiated, and the juror must be removed from the jury. Thereafter, the trial judge must conduct a thorough, comprehensive, and probing investigation to determine what influence the juror’s noxious sentiments had on other jurors. Here, the judge’s voir dire of Jurors 3, 5, and 12 was completely inadequate and fell far short of what was required.
“When Juror 4 inferred a sinister conspiratorial purpose from a facially innocuous event, based solely on the race of the participants, she revealed a deeply rooted, latent racial bias that required her removal from the jury… Her initial instinctive, subliminal association of race with criminality or wrongdoing far trumped her subsequent assurances of impartiality.”