Defense Says La. Prosecutors Exclude Black Jurors

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Prosecutors in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish dismisses potential black jurors at a much higher rate than whites to manipulate the chances of convicting minority defendants and to lessen the influence of black jurors in trials, a nonprofit New Orleans lawyers’ group charges, says the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Based on a study of more than 500 trials and 23,000 jurors from 1994 to 2002, the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center found that prosecutors strike potential black jurors from jury pools at a rate more than three times than that at which they dismiss white, and that in 80 percent of trials there are not enough black jurors to affect the verdict.

“There is clearly a race problem here,” said the center’s Richard Bourke. District Attorney Paul Connick Jr. vehemently denied that race plays a role in his office’s legal decisions. He called the accusations politically motivated by lawyers opposed to capital punishment. The center gets most of its financing from the state to represent indigent defendants in capital cases.

At a hearing yesterday, the center sought to have charges dismissed against Edward Harris, a black man who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in two killings. Last year, the Louisiana Supreme Court overturned Harris’ conviction, ruling that a black man who was a potential juror had been wrongly excluded.

Since 1997, Connick’s office has prosecuted about 1,300 jury trials, and the Harris case is the only one to be overturned because a juror was illegally dismissed, said Connick. “They’re just throwing the numbers out and making the inference that it’s all racially motivated,” he said, adding that he has received no complaints from judges or defense attorneys about racist jury selection. “We don’t operate that way.”

With a population about 23 percent black, only 6 percent of Jefferson Parish trials should have juries with no blacks on them, Bourke said; the actual figure is about 22 percent.


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