Greg Bluestein, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 8, 2010
A Georgia man accused of killing two people used an innovative legal strategy Monday in an attempt to get his murder charges dismissed. Call it the Census defense.
Floyd Wayne Williams Jr. wants the charges dropped–or at least his trial delayed–until the 2010 Census is done so that a jury more accurately reflecting the county’s racial makeup can be chosen. Williams, who is black, is to be tried in the south Atlanta’s Clayton County, which has seen a surge in African-American residents since the 2000 Census.
Jury pools in Clayton County, like many other jurisdictions, are drawn from voter registration lists, driver’s license data and utility records. The list is then balanced by race and gender from the Census to reflect a cross-section of the population.
Williams, 31, argued his constitutional rights will be violated if he is tried by a jury drawn from the 2000 Census, when the black population was 50.6 percent, instead of 2007, when the number had swelled to 64.5 percent.
There has been an increase in attorneys using a jury’s racial makeup as a defense argument, in particular as Hispanic and black populations in parts of the country have swelled since the 2000 Census, said Jeffrey Abramson, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law who has written a book about the role of juries.
The U.S. Supreme Court could soon decide whether a Michigan man’s murder convictions should have been tossed out because there were too few black residents in a county’s jury pool. Diapolis Smith, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury for shooting a man in Grand Rapids in 1991.
“The estimate in 2007 is more accurate than the 2000 Census. The further we get away from that, the less accurate we are,” said Christian Lamar, a Williams attorney. “And right now we know, we absolutely know, that the numbers from the 2000 Census do not reflect what we have today.”
“The defendant has no right to a jury that perfectly mirrors the county’s population,” said Briones [state attorney Lalaine Briones]. “He does have a right to a jury system that does not intentionally discriminate against a group.”