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Appeal disputes exclusion of village residents from juries

May 26, 2018

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Court of Appeals’ decision on a case could impact how remote Alaska village residents are included in juries.

Attorney Kelly Taylor argued Thursday that his client, Teddy Kyle Smith, was not tried by a jury of his peers when he was convicted of attempted murder for shooting two men near his home village of Kiana in 2012, Alaska Public Media reported .

Smith was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

Smith’s trial was in Kotzebue, the closest courthouse to Kiana but still more than 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away.

Alaska jurors are only assigned to criminal trials from communities within 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) of the courthouse where the trial is held.

Smith’s lawyers argue he was not tried by a jury of his peers because the trial judge denied their request to expand the jury pool.

“This court will have to decide whether the right to participate in jury service of village residents is violated by their categorical exclusion from the jury panel in this case, and whether Smith’s right to a fair cross-section was violated, where the people who share his experience of living day to day in a remote village location (were) violated,” Taylor said.

Taylor and others, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Native American Rights Fund, claim there is also a racial inequity component to jury selection in Alaska, because villages tend to have a higher proportion of Alaska Native residents.

“Alaska Natives are underrepresented on juries and it means that non-Native residents are over-represented on juries,” Taylor said. “Being on a jury means applying the law. Your vote is an application of the law, and that discrepancy means Alaska Native residents get fewer votes.”

State Attorney Ann Black and the state court system say jurors from Kotzebue are not so different from residents of villages as to be unfair to a defendant.

The state also says the cost of getting jurors to a courthouse more than 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) from where they live presents a logistical and financial burden for the court system.

Black argued Thursday that selection of jurors in Smith’s case was fair according to a past decision by the Alaska Supreme Court.

It is unclear when the appeals court will hand down a decision.

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