In the first successful challenge to a glitch in the jury selection process in Kent County, Mich., a man convicted of rape will get a hearing to determine whether the absence of blacks in the jury pool led to an unfair conviction, according to the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Press.
The flaw, which caused potential jurors to be selected more heavily from predominantly white areas of town and excluded those from predominantly black areas, was discovered by a high school teacher and his class in their examination of jury data.
The Michigan Court of Appeals on Wednesday ordered the case returned for a judge to determine whether the black prisoner deserves a new trial because only one of 45 prospective jurors was black.
One of the three appeals judges went even further, criticizing the county for its highly publicized glitch and saying a new trial should be conducted outright.
“Because I find that the County of Kent systematically excluded African Americans from their jury pools … I would reverse the conviction and remand the matter to the trial court for a new trial,” Judge Stephen Borrello wrote in the decision.
About 25 defendants have appealed their convictions, saying the system excluded nearly 75 percent of the county’s eligible residents, particularly those in high-minority areas. But the appeals court refused to hear those cases because the defendants’ lawyers failed at trial to raise objections to the jury makeup, which would have preserved the issue at the appellate level.
The racial imbalance occurred in the circuit court’s jury pools for 16 months in 2001 and 2002.
The problem with the selection process came to light after Wayne Bentley, a City High School teacher, noticed the irregularity while examining jury data with his students. County officials first denied a problem, but it was later confirmed. Most of the excluded people lived in the areas with the county’s highest minority populations.
In the Bryant case, Kent County prosecutors acknowledged trouble with the selection process.
Prosecutors said “a computer program used to select potential jurors chose a disproportionately large number of jurors from areas with lower ZIP codes, which had the unintended effect of selecting fewer jurors from areas of the county where African-Americans live.”