In a judicial system where race is contentious, Judge Olu Stevens sought a mixed-raced jury. Studies have shown that all-white juries have the tendency to convict ethnicities that are not caucasian.
In the Kentucky case with Judge Stevens, the jurors were selected from a pool of 37 white jurors and only three black jurors with two of the black jurors having already been eliminated before the final selection was made.
The Judge was presiding over a drug case last month involving a black defendant in the Jefferson County Circuit Court in Louisville, which has a population of 22 percent black residents.
According to the judge, an all white jury presented an unfair disadvantage for a fair verdict.
“The concern is that the panel is not representative of the community,” said Stevens.
This is the second time Judge Stevens has ordered a new jury. In November 2014 during a theft trial, he ordered a new jury after all the selected jurors were white.
“There is not a single African-American on this jury and the defendant is an African-American man,” he said at the time. “I cannot in good conscience go forward with this jury.”
He referred the 2014 ruling in his latest ruling.
“We’ve already done this one time, so right off the bat, you’ve got a blueprint and we can be a lot more efficient, in theory.”
A local group of judges, lawyers, and citizens labeled as The Racial Fairness Commission have found that juries in the area have a repeat rate of lacking racial diversity. Additionally, Appeals Court Judge Denise Clayton who is the head of the commission says,
“It’s a problem. We are not hitting that representation.”
Stevens’ actions have come under both praise and criticism.
The state supreme court will now review the issue.
Also, the U.S. Supreme Court began reviewing a case Monday for a black man who has been on death row for 30 years because evidence surfaced that prosecutors deliberately kept black people off his jury, which might lead to a new trial for the man.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that jurors cannot be excluded based on race.
Jury & Race in America
Across the nation, the right or wrong jury has the power to make or break a case. In fact, PINAC News reported on a Charlotte, NC trial where the racial makeup of a jury led to the mistrial of a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed man.
In the Charlotte, NC trial– the jury was deadlocked 8-4, there were more white jurors than black jurors. The officer was white, and the dead victim was black.
The Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides the right to an unbiased jury in criminal prosecutions. In the civil rights era, this amendment was abused consistently in unfair trials across the south and Jim Crow states.
Jury inequality infiltrated the very core of the justice system for years without any change. Even the effects of Martin Luther King and company didn’t have an immediate impact on the justice system when it came to fair trials and unbiased jury selection.
It was not until 1986 that the Supreme Court stepped in to stop biased jury selection; hence implementing the Batson ruling. To be fair, The Supreme Court ruled in the 1879 case of Strauder v. West Virginia that it is unconstitutional for only allowing white people to serve on juries. But, that ruling was unenforced and often ignored.
To this day, there is exoneration after exoneration of wrongfully convicted people of color due to unfair trials. Texas leads America in exoneration’s.
This week, the trial began for an Oklahoma police officer accused of raping 13 prostitutes. The cop, Daniel Holtzclaw, is white. The victims were all black. And the jury is all white.
It is a sensitive issue that few are willing to talk or write about, but race still matters in America.
Everyone in the judicial system from police officers, to judges’, to prosecutors, to defense council, and the jury all have a significant duty in being fair and racially unbiased in doing their appointed duties that reflect and honor the United States Constitution.