Throughout the Country, Potential Black Jurors Face High Rejection Rates

In hundreds of trials over a 10-year period, prosecutors in a Louisiana county rejected potential black jurors three times as often as they rejected potential jurors of other races—a trend which is reflected in court systems around the country, new reporting published Monday has found.

Blackstrikes: A Study of the Racially Disparate Use of Peremptory Challenges by the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s Office (pdf), published by Reprieve Australia, analyzed 332 trials between 2003 and 2012.

While the report focuses on one region of Louisiana, additional research by the New York Times draws connections between those statistics and others from courts throughout the nation.

In the U.S., peremptory challenges allow attorneys to reject jurors without giving a reason. But if those dismissals are disputed on the basis of race or gender, prosecutors must give a “neutral” excuse for the decision. According to the Times, such reasons include things like having long hair, wearing a beard, living in a low-income neighborhood, failing to meet eye contact, having a hyphenated last name, or displaying bad posture, among others. In Caddo, the study found that prosecutors rejected 46 percent of potential black jurors on peremptory grounds.

“Not one defendant was acquitted in a trial where there were two or fewer black jurors,” writes Ursula Noye, vice president of Reprieve Australia and the study’s author. “The acquittal rate in the 49 trials where the number of black jurors was three or more, was 12 [percent]. In trials with five or more black jurors, defendants are acquitted 19 [percent] of the time.”

Out of 8,318 potential jurors analyzed during that 10-year period, only 35 percent were black—though Caddo’s population is 48 percent black. The reasons for that discrepancy, according to Northwestern University School of Law professor Shari Diamond, could themselves be influenced by other racially skewed elements of the American justice system.

Diamond told the Times that “[b]lacks may be less likely to be on jury lists that are drawn from voter registration records, less likely to appear when called, more likely to qualify for hardship exemptions and more likely to be disqualified for felony convictions.”

But of that 35 percent, prosecutors rejected nearly half through peremptory challenges, while only rejecting 15 percent of other potential jurors on similar grounds.