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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

SCOTUS decision proves jury duty should no longer be an after thought #stopaskingpermission

Jury Duty. Two words some of us hate hearing. I mean after all who wants to sit in a hot courtroom all day listening to lawyers drag on and on? The job is only exciting if it's a criminal trial and you might not get that lucky. A few times more than we would like to admit, some of us have said things to get attorneys not to choose us for the task. Again, who wants to sit in a courtroom all day listening to folks talk? As a law school graduate, I myself have tried to skip out on jury duty. It's Baltimore. I will never be excited about sitting through anything down at that courthouse. A recent Supreme Court ruling reminded me of why we need not only more black attorneys but why we also need to stop making excuses and accept the call to serve on the jury. Despite Congress passing the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to eliminate racial discrimination in jury selection, the United States Supreme Court recently heard a case involving prosecutors doing just that. On May 23, 2016 the United States Supreme Court ruled that Georgia prosecutors used racial discriminatory practices to taint a jury selection process in a murder case. The man charged with murder was a black man, Timothy Foster. He is one of many black men who are facing criminal charges and brought before a jury of their peers that look absolutely nothing like them. How is this possible? Jury selection is to provide the defendant with an impartial jury of his peers, right? Glad you asked, it most definitely is but prosecutors have used legal loopholes to prevent that from happening. During jury selection, attorneys engage in a process called "Voir Dire". In latin, the word means "speak the truth". Attorneys can question and examine prospective jurors to determine if they are fit to serve on the jury. Depending on the jurisdiction of the court and type of trial, the attorney is given a certain number of peremptory challenges to exclude a potential juror without needing to provide a reason or explanation. Unless, the opposing party argues that this challenge was used to discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or sex. Attorneys can also challenge for cause and dismiss a potential juror for a specific reason, most of the time its for bias or prejudice. For example, if you have a bias against law enforcement or certain races, then you can be dismissed. The process can get pretty complicated, so let's sum it up in one sentence. Historically attorneys have used peremptory strikes and challenges for cause to remove black jurors from the jury when it comes to trials of black people facing criminal charges. The accused are no longer facing an impartial jury and are potentially screwed. This is what happened to Timothy Foster and he was sentenced to death. After sitting in prison for decades Foster filed an open records request under the Georgia Open Records Act and was able to obtain a copy of the prosecution's notes. What he found in the file was that prosecutors intentionally removed blacks from the jury. They highlighted all the names of the black people, wrote the letter "B" next to their name and the letter "N" for No. IN BLANK STARE NEWS Georgia courts determined that despite this evidence there was no purposeful discrimination. *denies my Georgia heritage* The United States Supreme Court found that to be a lie. In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court justices determined that prosecutors unconstitutionally allowed racial considerations to taint the jury selection process. (The one hate, Justice Clarence Thomas) This ruling does not mean that Foster is a free man, instead, it means that the case will be remanded with instructions back to Georgia courts. Hopefully, this ruling starts to create a new precedent in states like North Carolina where the state Supreme Court has heard over 100 cases about prosecutorial misconduct regarding jury selection, yet never finding in favor of those discriminated against. Foster could very well be your father, brother, husband, son, best friend, or partner. So what does this mean for you and me?
  1. A reminder that we have a job to do when it comes to this blind justice system. That job starts with showing up for the task at hand.
  2. Prosecutors may find it hard to continue to strike those who show up ready and willing to do the job. They may be able to strike a few of us out, but if we start to show up enough, they can't strike us all out.
  3.  Stop asking for permission to get involved in the judicial system that doesn't require an arrest or citation.
  4. Start responding to those jury summons *promise I will too*
  5. Stop creating biases that would force you not to be chosen.
  6. Make sure you show up in more ways than one.
  7. #Stopaskingpermission and start answering your summons.
Photo: tumblr
Photo: tumblr
Photo: tumblr

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