Racial Bias Pervades Jury Selection
DALLAS (AP) _ Dallas County prosecutors routinely manipulate the racial makeup of juries through legal challenges, excluding up to 90 percent of qualified black candidates from felony juries, a newspaper reported Sunday.
The Dallas Morning News said its copyright story resulted from an eight- month investigation.
Several legal experts said the findings showed that prosecutors systematically exclude blacks from jury duty, violating defendants’ rights to fair trials and black citizens’ rights to participate in the criminal justice system, the News reported.
″I think that the black population, being a significant portion of Dallas County, is being totally discriminated against, and if I were a black person I’d be up in arms about it,″ said Dallas defense lawyer Kerry FitzGerald, head of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Project.
Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade said his prosecutors do not exclude prospective jurors solely because of race. But he said race sometimes can be a factor in deciding who will be dismissed through peremptory challenges.
In Texas, prosecutors and defense attorneys each have 10 such challenges in non-capital cases.
Blacks constitute 18 percent of the county’s population, but they made up fewer than 4 percent of jurors on 100 felony juries the newspaper studied. A black had a 10 percent chance of being selected for a jury, while a white had a 50 percent chance of being chosen, according to the News.
The study found that of the blacks struck from juries by peremptory challenges, 92 percent were barred by prosecutors, 4 percent by defense attorneys and 4 percent by both sides.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that systematic exclusion of an identifiable group of jury candidates is unconstitutional and it has overturned criminal convictions on those grounds.
In 1969, Assistant District Attorney Jon Sparling wrote guidelines on jury selection in which he said minorities ″almost always empathize with the accused″ and are not good jurors for the prosecution.
Sparling, a candidate for the Republican nomination for district attorney, said he was repeating the conventional wisdom of the time.
″I don’t think there’s ever been a good reason to systematically exclude blacks,″ he said.
Wade, who is retiring this year after 35 years as district attorney, said the newspaper’s findings on challenges might result from a large number of blacks saying they have personal knowledge about the case to be tried or have reservations about assessing the maximum sentence.
Wade said the newspaper’s study, based on computer analysis of court records of 100 randomly selected felony jury trials in 1983 and 1984, did not convince him that prosecutors engage in systematic exclusion of blacks.
″It indicates maybe,″ he said.
Wade and his assistants said Sparling’s recommendations never were followed blindly, that most current prosecutors have not read that manual, and prosecutors are trained to use demographic data and personal observations to decide whom to strike and whom to include in juries.