An Ohio murder case is shedding light on prosecutors’ use of a federal criminal records database to run background checks on jurors, reports the National Law Journal. Defense counsel charge that the process is meant to disqualify some jurors. In the case, which involves a black defendant, two prospective African-American jurors were disqualified when prosecutors ran background checks and found that they had allegedly lied about their criminal pasts. Martin Pinales, vice president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a partner in Cincinnati’s Sirkin Pinales & Schwartz, said that the frequency of prosecutors’ use of background checks on prospective jurors was not widely known by defense attorneys. “We had always heard rumors [that prosecutors were using federal databases to run background checks on jurors to disqualify them], but never heard confirmation until now,” he said. “But it does happen, and it may be a frequent practice.”
Pinales added that the practice could intimidate minorities from wanting to serve on juries. “It could have a very chilling effect,” he said. Robert Ranz, the defense counsel in the Ohio case, requested a mistrial. He charged that prosecutors checked only the records of three of the four prospective African-American jurors because they had indicated that they did not drive, which could have been the result of a probation or parole restriction. Ranz alleged that prosecutors deliberately checked the black jurors in an effort to disqualify them because the defendant was also black. FBI spokesman Steve Fischer said that during discovery, defense counsel can request copies of National Crime Information Center records that the prosecution has obtained.