As recently as 2002, Dallas County prosecutors were excluding eligible black prospects from juries at more than twice the rate they turned down whites, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The issue surfaced earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1986 murder conviction of a black man accused of killing a white motel clerk, saying the Dallas County jury that convicted Thomas Miller-El was unfairly stacked with whites.
The Supreme Court cited a manual, written in 1969 and used until at least 1980, that instructed prosecutors on how to exclude minorities from Texas juries. Justice David Souter wrote that racial discrimination in the Miller-El case was unquestionable.
Bill Hill, who took over as district attorney in 1999, said his prosecutors don’t exclude jurors on the basis of race.
“The statistics may show we strike more blacks, but it’s not because they’re black,” Hill said. “It’s because for one reason or another, they (prosecutors) don’t think they are going to be fair and impartial.”
Proportional representation still holds
Blacks still served on Dallas juries in proportion to their population, the newspaper’s study found, because defense attorneys excluded white jurors at three times the rate they rejected blacks.
The Dallas Morning News examined jury selection in cases from 2002, reviewing more than 6,500 juror information cards, studying transcripts of juror questioning, and analyzing lawyers’ strike patterns.
It published the first part of a three-part series on jury selection Sunday.
The analysis found that prosecutors treated the responses of blacks and whites to key questions differently. A review of transcripts of juror questioning, available in 59 of the 108 cases studied, showed that:
- Juror views on rehabilitation were the most important factor in determining whom prosecutors rejected, but they excluded 79 percent of blacks who favored rehabilitation over punishment or deterrence, compared with 55 percent of whites who did.
- Prosecutors excluded 78 percent of blacks who said they or someone close to them had had contact with the criminal justice system, compared with 39 percent of whites.
- Prosecutors rejected all blacks who said they or someone close to them had had a bad experience with police or the courts, compared with 39 percent of whites who gave the same response. About 2 percent of all respondents gave that response.
Observer finds ‘blatant disregard’ of law
The dueling tactics of defense attorneys and prosecutors during jury selection produce only an illusion of equal rights that flouts the intent of several U.S. Supreme Court rulings, said University of Iowa law professor David Baldus, a leading researcher on jury selection.
Racial discrimination in selecting jurors has long been federally prohibited. A 1986 Supreme Court ruling cited in the Miller-El case barred prosecutors from disqualifying potential jurors based on race.
“We’re talking about the court of law, and there is blatant disregard and violation of the law going on,” Baldus said.