In late April in a courthouse in Madison County, Ala., a prosecutor was asked to explain why he had struck 11 of 14 black potential jurors in a capital murder case.
The district attorney, Robert Broussard, said one had seemed “arrogant” and “pretty vocal.” In another woman, he said he “detected hostility.”
Mr. Broussard also questioned the “sophistication” of a former Army sergeant, a forklift operator with three years of college, a cafeteria manager, an assembly-line worker and a retired Department of Defense program analyst.
The analyst, he said, “did not appear to be sophisticated to us in her questionnaire, in that she spelled Wal-Mart, as one of her previous employers, as Wal-marts.”
Arguments like these were used for years to keep blacks off juries in the segregationist South, systematically denying justice to black defendants and victims. But today, the practice of excluding blacks and other minorities from Southern juries remains widespread and, according to defense lawyers and a new study by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit human rights and legal services organization in Montgomery, Ala., largely unchecked.
In the Madison County case, the defendant, Jason M. Sharp, a white man, was sentenced to death after a trial by a jury of 11 whites and one black. The April hearing was the result of a challenge by defense lawyers who argued that jury selection was tainted by racial discrimination — a claim that is difficult to prove because prosecutors can claim any race-neutral reason, no matter how implausible, for dismissing a juror.
While jury makeup varies widely by jurisdiction, the organization, which studied eight Southern states — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee — found areas in all of them where significant problems persist. In Alabama, courts have found racially discriminatory jury selection in 25 death penalty cases since 1987, and there are counties where more than 75 percent of black jury pool members have been struck in death penalty cases.
An analysis of Jefferson Parish, La., by the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center found that from 1999 to 2007, blacks were struck from juries at more than three times the rate of whites
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Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
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Wednesday, June 02, 2010