Why Black Jurors Matter
In America’s criminal courtrooms, it is no secret that prosecutors, whether it be Assistant State Attorneys prosecuting for the State of Florida or Assistant United States Attorneys prosecuting for the Federal Government, will use peremptory challenges to strike “black, brown and yellow skinned” people from sitting on criminal juries. Having picked tens of juries, through my years of criminal trial practice, it still amazes me at the amount angst prosecutors demonstrate at the sight of “black, brown and yellow skinned” people on jury venires. Governmental striking of people from jury panels, because of their skin color is a very important body of law that must be strictly adhered too, if justice is to prevail for the accused. Furthermore, for the community to feel they are properly represented and their voices are heard, the protections afforded to all Floridians under Sec. 22 of the Florida Constitution providing that: “the right of trial by jury shall be secure to all and remain inviolate;” and to all U.S. citizens under the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution providing in pertinent part that: “ in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury” must be transparent, protected and fully understood by all.
As a practicing Criminal Trial Lawyer in West Palm Beach, FL my job is to pick juries in Palm Beach County and throughout the State of Florida in all criminal matters. In order to pick an impartial jury, so that the accused is assured a “fair trial,” a criminal defense lawyer must know how to find one. The following discussion and legal principles will set forth the law in Florida as to whether there was racial discrimination in jury selection of the accused.
First, to set the stage let’s use a real life scenario from a recent criminal trial conducted in Palm Beach County, Florida. The accused was charged with multiple violent crimes and he was “black.” The accused had a violent past, as did the alleged victim. So it is fair to say both “black” men were equally positioned in their street creds.
During jury selection, the venire or panel of prospective juries, contained Palm Beach County residents that were also “black,” just like the accused and the victim. As previously stated, nothing makes prosecutors more uncomfortable than seeing black faces on a jury panel, when prosecuting a young “black” man for violent crimes. During voir dire, when the prosecutor and criminal defense lawyer get their chance to “speak” with the prospective jurors, about any biases they may have, the following scenario took place: The prosecutor asked the “black” prospective juror if committing a crime in the past, makes it more likely that you will commit a crime in the future? The prospective black juror said yes. The prosecutor moved to strike the “black” juror not for “cause” but with one of their “peremptory” challenges.
A cause challenge during juror selection is one that removes a juror member from the panel because of a stated “reason” that is apparent on its face, like juror illness, travel, competing schedules that makes it impossible to give full attention to the trial and many other “apparent” reasons stated by the juror on the record. On the other hand, peremptory challenges are limited in number and can be used recklessly and for no reason to strike prospective jurors, except of course if the Government is trying to stack the deck by excluding all people because of their skin color. If this occurs, then the criminal defense lawyer must simultaneously object to the “peremptory” challenge being exercised by the Assistant State Attorney to (a) have the matter ruled on by the trial judge and (b) preserve the matter for appeal. After which, the following rules of law must be strictly adhered to by the trial judge, in order for the accused to receive a fair trial and the prospective jurors of the community be “part” of the process.
The strict rule of law can be found in Melbourne v. State, a Florida Supreme Court case found at 679 So. 2d 759, 764-65 (Fla. 1996). In Melbourne, the Florida Supreme Court set forth the steps for analysis when a party objects to the use of a peremptory challenge on the basis that it was racially discriminatory like the scenario recently in the Palm Beach County Criminal Case. First, the party objecting to the other side’s use of a peremptory challenge on racial grounds must make a timely objection on that basis. This is easy. All the Criminal Defense Lawyer has to say is, I object because the state is striking the juror because he or she is black, brown or yellow. The next step is to point out to the judge by the way of making a record that the venire person, prospective juror, is a member of a distinct racial group. Lastly, the criminal defense lawyer must request that the court ask the striking party, the prosecutor, its reason for the strike. Once the criminal defense attorney meets those easy goals, the trial judge must do the following.
The trial court must now shift the burden to the Assistant State Attorney and request the flowing from the prosecutor. To explain in detail the reason for the strike of the juror from the distinct racial group. Further, the prosecutor must show through some articulable facts stated by the prospective a race neutral reason why the juror should be stricken from the panel.
Now, the trial court must determine if the explanation given by the prosecutor for using a strike on the distinct racial juror is facially race neutral and believable to the court, given all the circumstances surrounding the strike and the explanation given by the prosecutor is or isn’t pretext.
Here, the court’s focus is not on the reasonableness of the explanation but rather its genuineness. Throughout this process, the burden of persuasion never leaves the opponent of the strike, the prosecutor, to prove purposeful racial discrimination.
Some of the things that trial courts have used to gauge the “genuineness” of the prosecutors heart in striking jurors for race are: the racial make-up of the venire; prior strikes exercised against the same racial group; a strike based on a reason equally applicable to an unchallenged juror; or singling the juror out for special treatment. The prior are just some examples set by the court, but not guide post for which the winds of racial intimidation, discrimination and juror non-affiliation lawfully occur due to the color of ones skin during jury selection.
Additionally, as a criminal defense trial lawyer it is imperative that you open your mouth and argue that the prosecutor’s use of the challenge is in fact “pretextual.” In your argument, you will lay a record for appeal and hopefully persuade the trial judge to see that the true intent of the prosecutor was to conceal their motive of discriminate based on race through their false narrative provided to the court. As the Florida Supreme Court recognized, identifying the true nature of an attorney’s motive behind a peremptory strike turns primarily on an assessment of the attorney’s credibility. In our legal system, credibility is a matter solely within the purview of a finder of fact. For this reason, a trial judge’s ruling on the “genuineness” of a peremptory challenge “will be affirmed on appeal unless clearly erroneous.” It is our job as criminal defense attorneys, who protect the rights of the accused, to lay the record for the trial court and for appellate purposes to assure a fair trial for all clients no matter their race. Because when one reads the Florid and U.S. Constitutions it does not refer anywhere to the color of one’s skin but to the person and individual.
If you or loved one is facing criminal charges or criminal court in Palm Beach County, FL contact West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Lawyer, Andrew D. Stine, at 561 832 1170. Palm Beach Criminal Trial Lawyer Andrew D. Stine has been protecting the rights of all accused of criminal activity for over 12 years. West Palm Beach Criminal Attorney Andrew D. Stine has trial experience in every criminal arena from felonies to misdemeanors, from DUI to DUI Homicide cases, from Federal Courts in Boston to all Federal Courts in Florida. When you need a fighter in your corner Hire Stine or Do the Time.