Importance of Jury Diversity: From a Chicago Criminal Lawyer
In light of the controversial jury trial verdicts that have been in the news lately, I can’t help but reflect on my successful jury trials and the main factors that contributed to our success. The one factor that consistently pops into my mind is the fact that we had a very diverse jury for majority of those trials. My personal description of diversity includes much more than race, it encompasses age, education level, gender, sexual orientation, and economic status. However, majority of the scholarly articles, research, and media publications regarding jury diversity specifically address the lack of racial diversity in juries. Unfortunately, in my experiences as a criminal defense lawyer in Chicago, African Americans and Hispanics are overrepresented in the number of arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment, but underrepresented on juries in criminal courts.
Why is Jury Diversity So Important
Diverse juries are imperative to ensure defendants and the public that the criminal justice system is impartial and fair. The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives all defendants the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury. Considerable power is vested in the group of people serving on a jury, who are responsible for deciding matters of fact and delivering a verdict of guilt or innocence based on the evidence in a case. So, it’s important to note that people of different economic statuses and races, have different experiences and attitudes relating to the criminal justice system. These differing experiences and attitudes, open deliberations up for varying perspectives and helps to eliminate or, at least, tone down biases and prejudices during the deliberation process. Persons of different races often process the same information in different ways and many times, come to different conclusions. There was a research study done in 2006 by professor Sam Sommers at Tufts University that explored how jury’s deliberations are impacted by its racial composition. Here are some of the findings that came from the study:
- “Racially diverse juries made decisions in a different way. They raised a broader range of questions, made fewer factual errors, and were more willing to discuss and debate uncomfortable or controversial issues related to race.”
- “Something more motivational was at play. Even before deliberations began, the white jurors on the mixed juries were less likely to vote guilty. In homogenous groups, we sometimes operate on autopilot. But you think more carefully and have a different mindset in a diverse group.”
Can Anything Be Done if My Jury Pool is not Diverse?
Since, the Sixth Amendment gives you the right to an “impartial jury”, it is required that a jury be drawn from a fair cross-section of the community. So, if you are in a situation where you need to challenge the lack of diversity in your jury pool, your criminal lawyer can start by simply asking the judge to dismiss that group based on the racial imbalance and request a new group of prospective jurors. If that does not work, he or she might look into establishing a prima facie violation. Realistically, minorities are underrepresented in jury pools everyday throughout the country. Chicago Tribune published an article last year, in which it discussed two jury trials that occurred in the same federal courtroom a couple of months apart. One of the trials was for an elderly African American man who had a jury pool of 50 people and there was only one African American man in the group of 50 people. The other trial was for a young African American man who was on trial for drug conspiracy and out of his 45 prospective jurors, only one of them was African American. In both of these cases, the criminal lawyers cited the racial imbalance in asking that the group of prospective jurors be dismissed and a new group randomly selected.
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