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New York Prosecutors Cannot Make Jury-Selection Decisions Based on Race

New York criminal defendants enjoy many important constitutional rights, one of which is the right to a jury drawn from a cross-section of society. In the 1986 United States Supreme Court case, Batson v. Kentucky, the Court determined that the defendant was deprived of his constitutional rights when the prosecution struck all black potential jurors from the jury panel, resulting in an all-white jury.

Since then, the Court has made it clear the prosecutors cannot use a potential juror’s race as a decision in whether to accept or reject that juror. In its most recent case discussing race in the jury-selection process, the Court again affirmed the principle that race should not be a consideration when selecting a jury.

This case involved a black man who was previously tried five times for the murder of four furniture store employees, three of whom were white. In the first three trials, the case either resulted in a mistrial based on the prosecution’s race-based jury-selection techniques or the jury’s verdict was reversed on appeal based on prosecutorial misconduct. The fourth and fifth trials resulted in hung juries. Thus, this time was the sixth time the state tried the defendant for murder.

According to the Court’s opinion, the defendant was convicted of murder by a jury consisting of eleven white jurors and one black juror. During jury selection, the prosecution used five of its six peremptory strikes against black jurors, allowing only one black juror onto the jury. The prosecution also asked the five black potential jurors 145 questions while only asking the eleven white potential jurors 12 questions.

The Court ultimately reversed the defendant’s conviction, explaining that “four critical facts, taken together, require reversal.” Those facts were:

  1. Looking at all six of the trials against the defendant, the prosecution admitted to using 41 of 42 peremptory strikes against black jurors.
  2. In the most recent trial, five of the prosecution’s six peremptory strikes were used against black jurors.
  3. In an apparent effort to avoid seeming as though it was used race as a consideration, the prosecution engaged in disparate questioning of black and white jurors.
  4. The prosecution struck at least one black juror that was similarly situated to white jurors that were not struck by the prosecution.

The Court explained that it did not need to decide if any one of these issues alone would have required reversal, basing its decision on the total effect of all four issues when considered together.

Have You Been Arrested for a New York Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with a crime, contact the dedicated New York criminal defense attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we understand the role that race plays in the criminal justice system, and aggressively combat the prejudices and stereotypes that have no place in a court of law. Our attorneys handle all types of cases, including New York manslaughter and murder cases. To learn more about how we can help you defend against the charges you face, call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation today.