Promoting fair jury representation
Jury selection practices should encourage participation by a cross-section of the community. Yet, advocates complain that prosecutors frequently engage in racial discrimination during the juror selection process in clear violation of federal law. “Dedicated and thorough enforcement of anti-discrimination laws designed to prevent racially biased jury selection must be undertaken by courts, judges, and lawyers involved in criminal and civil trials, especially in serious criminal cases and capital cases.”
Moreover, jurors from low-income communities are often unable to participate due to biased exclusion criteria. For example, prosecutors in some jurisdictions may strike prospective jurors because they have family members who have been involved in the criminal justice system.
The Department of Justice, particularly U.S. Attorneys, should enforce 18 U.S.C. 243, which prohibits racially discriminatory jury selection, by prosecuting prosecutor offices that have a pattern or practice of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.
Congress should ensure that:
- “The rule banning racially discriminatory use of peremptory strikes announced in Batson v. Kentucky should be applied retroactively to death row prisoners and others with lengthy sentences whose convictions or death sentences are the product of illegal, racially biased jury selection but whose claims have not been reviewed because they were tried before 1986.”
The judiciary and local and state legislators should promote jury selection practices that do the following through legislation and through courtroom practices:
- Restore party-controlled voir dire, which allows attorneys for both sides in a criminal trial to thoroughly question jurors about their relevant life experiences to eliminate the use of race or gender as proxies for experience;
- Offer hardship accommodations to jurors, which include access to childcare, transportation passes, or mileage reimbursement, to ease the logistical and financial burden that low-income jurors face;
- Ensure that prior involvement in the justice system does not bar an individual’s ability to participate in a jury;
- Explore alternatives to voter-based juror rolls that ensure that community members who are not on the voter rolls can nonetheless participate in juries; and
- Eliminate the pro forma exclusion to jurors with family members in the criminal justice systems.