Category: juries

Zimmerman case reveals flawed jury selection process

By Alan Bean

A jury comprised of five white women and one Latina has acquitted George Zimmerman on all charges.  This outcome was largely determined by the way we select juries in America.

Imagine that two women who looked like Trayvon Martin were part of the deliberation.   Can you imagine an acquittal under those circumstances?  I can’t.

In an earlier post I argued that a jury of women who look like the accused would have a hard time finding him guilty of anything.  I wasn’t suggesting that these women were overt, old-school racists who love the Nigrah . . . in his place.  I was simply suggesting that they would find it hard to identify with the victim.

Zimmerman should have been convicted of manslaughter because, for no discernible reason, he saw an unarmed back adolescent as a threat and, contrary to instructions from law enforcement, decided to pursue him.   (more…)

Racial bias and the selection of death penalty juries

The New York Times editorial below explores the relationship between race and the selection of death penalty juries. The editorial mentions a 2011 study conducted at Michigan State University that found a significant racial bias in the selection of jurors. In the 166 cases reviewed by researchers, “prosecutors dismissed more than twice as many blacks from the jury (56%) as others (25%).” Moreover, the disparity was even greater when the defendants were black.

The Curtis Flowers case is a prime example of this type of racial bias. Curtis, an innocent man, has been tried six times for the same crime. His first two convictions were overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct. Discrimination in jury selection led the Supreme Court to overturn Flowers’ conviction after his third trial. Trials four and five ended with hung juries. At the end of the sixth trial, Curtis was convicted and sentenced to death. Although Mr. Flowers has spent over 15 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, we can only hope that the growing awareness of racial bias in jury selection will help bring justice for Curtis and others facing similar situations. MW

Race and Death Penalty Juries

North Carolina courageously passed the Racial Justice Act in 2009, making it the first state in the country to give death row inmates a chance to have their sentences changed to life without parole based on proof that race played a significant role in determining punishment.

A state court is now hearing the first challenge to a death sentence under that law. Marcus Robinson, who has been on death row since 1994, must prove that state prosecutors discriminated against blacks in selecting juries, affecting the outcomes of cases, including his. His lawyers presented a notable study by researchers at Michigan State University showing this kind of bias. (more…)

“Both sides are us”: Stuntz and Kennedy unpack the spirituality of criminal justice reform

By Alan Bean

In 2010, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Colorblindness, rocked the civil rights community back on its heels.  Alexander accused the criminal justice reform movement of seeking legal solutions to a moral problem, of fighting for affirmative action while abandoning the victims of a brutal and counter-productive drug war, of telling pretty stories about wrongfully convicted poster-boys while ignoring the social nightmares unfolding in poor communities of color.

 If the way we pursue reforms does not contribute to the building of a movement to dismantle the system of mass incarceration, and if our advocacy does not upset the prevailing public consensus that supports the new caste system, none of the reforms, even if won, will successfully disrupt the nation’s racial equilibrium.  Challenges to the system will be easily absorbed or deflected, and the accommodations made will serve primarily to legitimate the system, not undermine it.  We run the risk of winning isolated battles but losing the larger war.

In 2011, two books by white males revealed that Michelle Alexander is not the only American scholar in search of a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration.   The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz, and Don’t Shoot: One Man, A Street Fellowship, and the End of Violence in Inner-City America by David M. Kennedy are not books written in response to Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  Stuntz and Kennedy are white male academics who see mass incarceration and the war on drugs as unmitigated disasters.  These authors tackle America’s racial history head on.  Most importantly, they agree with Alexander that a movement to end mass incarceration must begin with a new moral consensus.    (more…)

Reflections on the Casey Anthony Trial

By Charles Kiker

“We need to start talking about a nation of broken people where broken people can be redeemed” (Alan Bean, Friends of Justice blog “Royal Visit . . .” July 8, 2011).

Amen, Alan.

I didn’t follow the Casey Anthony trial closely. I did watch some of the closing arguments. I fully expected that she would be convicted of at least a lesser charge than the first degree murder, and would not have been surprised if she had been convicted on all counts. After all, that’s what juries do 95% of the time. So I was mildly surprised, but not shocked and outraged, when she was acquitted of all felony charges. I was not at all surprised that she was convicted of four charges of lying to the investigators, nor was I outraged at the punishment meted out by the court for those misdemeanors.

I was not at all prepared for the vitriol directed toward the jury for the verdict. (more…)