Editorial: Why So Few Black Jurors?

Detroit Free Press, June 3, 2012

It’s a conundrum that has bedeviled metro Detroit for decades: In a federal judicial district whose population is more than 20% African American, fewer than 1 in 10 citizens who report for jury duty in Detroit’s U.S. District Courthouse are black.

Now, with a well-known black businessman on trial and his alleged partner in a massive kickback scheme, former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, scheduled to square off with federal prosecutors later this summer, the prospect of all-white or mostly-white juries sitting in judgment of prominent African-American defendants has rekindled long-standing resentment and suspicion in the black community.

Late last week, U.S. District Judge David Lawson, the Clinton appointee presiding over the bid-rigging trial of Detroit contractor Bobby Ferguson, rejected Ferguson’s assertion that his constitutional rights were violated when his jury was drawn from a pool that was less than 7% African American.

Acknowledging that blacks are frequently underrepresented in the Detroit jury pool, Lawson ruled that the process by which federal juries are selected was imperfect but not unconstitutional, and that Ferguson’s trial—by a jury that includes 10 whites and two blacks—must go forward.

Why are African Americans so underrepresented in Detroit’s federal courtrooms?

{snip}

Today, in a special question-and-answer feature, the Free Press editorial board explores the history of the problem and what those inside and outside the judicial system are doing to address it.

{snip}

Q: If the law doesn’t require racial minorities to be proportionally represented on any given jury, how can anyone say that African Americans (or any other group) are underrepresented?

A: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the race and ethnicity of those selected for jury duty should be roughly proportional to the race and ethnicity of those eligible for jury service. When critics complain that African Americans are underrepresented on federal juries in Detroit, they are simply pointing out that the percentage of African Americans in the pool from which juries are selected is much smaller than the percentage of African Americans eligible for jury service in the nine counties that constitute the Detroit division of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

Q: How are people chosen for federal jury duty in Detroit?

A: Once every couple of years, the names and addresses of about 300,000 adults presumed qualified for jury service are randomly selected from a database that includes registered voters, licensed drivers and those who hold state identification cards.

{snip}

The court then mails questionnaires—about 5,000 every two months or so—to residents selected at random from the master jury wheel to determine if they are legally qualified to serve on a federal jury.

Q: Why wouldn’t someone whose name appears on one of the three lists the court uses be qualified?

A: Prospective jurors are automatically disqualified if they are not citizens, lack the literacy skills to understand and complete the questionnaire without assistance, or have not resided in the Detroit division for at least a year. They may exercise their right to be excused from jury duty if they are over 70, have some mental or physical infirmity that prevents them from participating, are in active military service, or are working as police officers or firefighters.

{snip}

Q: So where do prospective African -American jurors fall away? Are blacks underrepresented because judges or prosecutors tend to exclude them from jury service, especially when the defendant is black?

A: There’s little evidence to support that. Attorneys for both sides in a criminal trial typically have the right to exclude a limited number of prospective jurors without saying why, but excluding anyone solely on the basis of race is illegal. Judges are required to seat a juror challenged by either side if the court believes the challenge is motivated exclusively by racial or ethnic considerations.

Q: If judges are doing their job, why do so few African Americans end up seated on federal juries?

A: Almost everyone agrees the problem arises because a disproportionately high number of African-American residents don’t respond to the initial questionnaire.

Q: If the court doesn’t know the race of those summoned for jury duty, how does it know the race of those who fail to respond?

A: It doesn’t. But the nonresponse rate for juror questionnaires mailed to Wayne County has consistently been at least twice as high as the nonresponse rate in other counties. And Wayne County is where most of the region’s African-American citizens live.

For example, 25% of prospective jurors in Wayne County failed to respond to jury questionnaires mailed in August 2008, compared to 10% or less in six surrounding counties. By August 2010, the recession had pushed nonresponse rates higher everywhere, but Wayne’s 53% nonresponse rate was again nearly double that of any other county.

{snip}

Q: Why not keep sending additional summonses to ZIP codes where high concentrations of African Americans live until a proportionate number of questionnaires are returned?

A: That’s essentially what the committee proposes. But it’s difficult to reach any particular threshold of African-American representation without violating legal requirements that the jury selection process remain random.

In the 1990s, the Detroit district tried subtracting names drawn from less racially diverse areas from the jury pool to boost the proportion of African-American jurors. The U.S. Court of Appeals eventually ruled that practice unconstitutional.

What the Hood-Roberts committee is proposing now is to make sure that any summons that is returned as undeliverable triggers a new mailing to another resident in the same ZIP code, or an adjoining ZIP code that is demographically similar.

This strikes us as a practical and constitutionally sound accommodation, and we hope the U.S. Court of Appeals will approve it.

Q: As long as court administrators are going out of their way to make sure that African Americans have the opportunity to serve on juries, why is it the court’s problem—or society’s, for that matter—if black citizens fail to exploit that opportunity?

A: Because, in a democratic society, the legitimacy and moral authority of the courts hinges on the participation of everyone. When African Americans are consistently underrepresented, for whatever reason, confidence that minority defendants can obtain equal justice under the law inevitably suffers.

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  • Why NO black jurors in Deeetroit?
    All them splibs be in jail

  • Once every couple of years, the names and addresses of about 300,000
    adults presumed qualified for jury service are randomly selected from a
    database that includes registered voters, licensed drivers and those who
    hold state identification cards.

    This is why certain people don’t want legit ID.  This means they get called into jury duty, and they fear that their being in a building known for criminal justice means that some cop will make them and arrest them for back warrants.

    There’s little evidence to support that. Attorneys for both sides in a
    criminal trial typically have the right to exclude a limited number of
    prospective jurors without saying why, but excluding anyone solely on
    the basis of race is illegal.

    It goes further than that.  The prosecution is not allowed preemptive challenges to jurors that are the same race as a minority defendant.

    Prospective jurors are automatically disqualified if they are not
    citizens, lack the literacy skills to understand and complete the
    questionnaire without assistance, or have not resided in the Detroit
    division for at least a year.

    Convicted felons can’t be jurors.  This knocks out a lot of black men.

    ***

    There’s one more consideration:  This article is discussing the Federal trial level judicial circuit which serves Detroit.  Therefore, Federal jurors can be drawn from not only Detroit, and not only Wayne County, but from many surrounding counties.  Federal juries in big black cities tend to be whiter than state juries in that same city for that plain reason.  This is why there is an under the table effort to dump so much ordinary criminal justice matters in the Federal system as possible, in order to circumvent nullification-happy black juries that you’ll find in a state criminal trial in Detroit or St. Louis.  (At least with Detroit, in Wayne County, Michigan, you can draw from the whole county in a state trial.  Since St. Louis is an independent city, separate from St. Louis the County, and the City is half black, any jury in the St. Louis City circuit will be heavily black.)  This is also why big city prosecutors like to plead out as much as possible, because the black juries at trial are often a dead end.

  • Detroit_WASP

    When former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick was on trial he claimed there weren’t enough blacks on the jury.
     
    The prosecutor, Kim Worthy, who is also black, replied by stating at a news conference that blacks simply do not show up for jury duty like whites do and there was nothing she could do about it.  I could not find that article but I did find this one, where STRANGELY, it was the same situation. http://amren.com/oldnews/archives/2011/05/was_kent_county.php
     
    These defendants must not have gotten the memo that there is no such thing as race.  

    • Up to my neck in CA

      The comments to that link are a great sign that White eyes are opening!

  • haroldcrews

    ‘Because, in a democratic society, the legitimacy and moral authority of the courts hinges on the participation of everyone. When African Americans are consistently underrepresented, for whatever reason, confidence that minority defendants can obtain equal justice under the law inevitably suffers.’
    Because, in a democratic society, the legitimacy and moral authority of the labor force hinges on the participation of everyone.  When African Americans are consistently underrepresented, for whatever reason, confidence that minority workers can obtain equal justice under the law inevitably suffers.

    Therefore blacks must be forced to be on juries and must be forced to labor.  The same could be said about voting.

  • JackKrak

    I wouldn’t trust a typical black to be a juror in a slam-dunk case with full confessions and video evidence of everything.

    How many black jurors out there can follow the intricacies of complex financial crimes or cases based on evidence of a scientific nature?

    Legal outcomes are supposed to be predictable – that’s what gives any legal sytem stability and builds trust among those subject to it. But adding black jurors to the pool is the biggest wild card that can be dealt.

  • crystal evans

    I once worked with a black woman when I lived in Georgia who told me that the reason she never registered to vote because she did not want to serve on a jury and the courts took the names of potential jurors off the voter registration rolls. This was not the case, names  were also taken from those who have drivers licenses.

    •  Until a few years ago, MO would only draw from registered voters.  Then the state legislature quietly changed the law so that jury duty notices could also be drawn from state IDs and drivers licenses, mainly at the behest of the overworked St. Louis City Circuit, which came close to calling in people to JD to the state legal maximum of once every three years.  St. Louis City has a severe need for jurors for two reasons:  One, all the criminal blacks, but since most criminal cases are pled out before the case can reach jury selection, that’s not the most severe reason.  The big consumer of jurors is that since St. Louis City juries have a reputation for bringing big monetary verdicts against people and institutions with a lot of money in civil lawsuits, (“sticking it to the man”), every plaintiffs lawyer tries some hook to venue shop a civil lawsuit into St. Louis City.

      If you live in a suburban county, like I currently do, you will rarely get called to JD.  Less crime and the juries are more business-friendly, which means no reason to venue shop here.

      My uncle, retired to a certain rural Missouri county which I won’t name for the last 23 years, has never been called to JD there.

  • LOL I know the reason the jury duty cards ask if you have been convicted of  a crime and if you have been a victim of crime. The only non criminals end up being non black

  • And the problem is? I mean do you really want the least intelligent in the country  sitting on juries? And then there is the whole character/integrity issue.  oj simpson was on the street for a while because of black jurors who a)would not convict a black man and b) b does not matter.
    blacks have already corrupted our justice system so the last thing we need are black jurors and black judges.

  • IKantunderstand

    OMG. Are you serious? Really?  So, White people should maybe DO WHAT? We can’t win! We are not just between Iraq and a hard place; but crushed, squeezed, masticated, spit out and still expected to carry (and pay for) the civil society that permits the world to exist in any semblance of order.

  • bluffcreek1967

    This is just one more example demonstrating that Blacks have not assimilated into the American culture and experience. Aside from some obvious reasons for avoiding jury duty (e.g., warrants, fear of the criminal justice system), Blacks simply don’t care about what they perceive as the White Man’s institutions. It’s mostly liberal Whites who are alarmed at the lack of interest Blacks have regarding jury duty – mainly because they don’t understand the nature of the Black man. Blacks themselves don’t give a rip about such matters.

    Moreover, Blacks, by and large, are a dull-witted, simple-minded people who are carefree and disinterested about so many things in life which includes their civic duty. Most don’t have the intellectual acumen to seriously think through the merits of a civil or criminal case. So, in reality, it is best for the good of all that they avoid jury duty.

    • mikejones91

      I have been thinking the same thing since 5th grade. I was 10 years old when 9/11 happened. All the kids in my class wore things to “remember”, but not the black kids. In my ignorant wisdom, I asked my teacher, “why aren’t the black kids patriotic like us?”. DETENTION!!!

  • Fredrik_H

    This reminds me of a story about New Orleans. 

    To help those displaced after Katrina the Red Cross had people helping out. These were mostly idealistic white girls, you know the type. However, the blacks thought they – in their hour of need – shouldn’t have to deal with no whitey and demanded for black staff only to find there were none.

    “Only white staff members!?! Dat cant be right! Dat be raciss!!!” – they thought, only to be told that the staff were all unpaid VOLOUNTEERS. 

  • Johnny Reb

    Getting a black to willingly go to any court (even if he’s not the guest of honor) is impossible.  It’s bred into them to fear the law.  Negros just don’t understand the white man’s legal system, those big words and those fat law books  . . . remember, books are like kryptonite to a negro.  Plus I think maybe they get confused when they see a white man in a robe . . . even a black one.

    There’s probably a negro-only gene that codes the message:  beware of whites in robes.

  • alastairabbacle

    The news and its pet blacks…..

  • Now, with a well-known black businessman on trial and his alleged partner in a massive kickback scheme, former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, scheduled to square off with federal prosecutors later this summer, the prospect of all-white or mostly-white juries sitting in judgment of prominent African-American defendants has rekindled long-standing resentment and suspicion in the black community.

    This article is pointless because it tries to use reason and facts to explain black failure to participate to blacks.

  • Southern__Hoosier

    One Black on a jury, is one too many. All it takes is one Black on the jury and you have a hung jury and a mistrial. 

  • refocus

    The real action in court is the civil lawsuit. 

    TPTB only want stupid unemployed whites on serotonin uptake inhibitors to pass judgement.

  • Tara

    Really thats what u think I have many black and other race of friends. TRUST ME they are not weak.Things are changing rights are being wronged. If that requires freeing some so call criminals by laws undet the white man Ohh well maybe they will change the laws GO AFTER the real criminals pocketing the real money. Look at forest stop worrying about the trees. I have jury duty tomorrow I am white.Last time I was only person who found black defendant innocent at first. Guess what Verdict came out innocent .I talked them all into verdict. THEY WERE READY to give this man a feloney. I also have a friend who held jury up 6 days verdict came out innocent. WHOS weak. It was all white jury blavk defendant.I dont even think these people knew a bkack person….WEAK YEAH RIGHT