Blacks on trial in Louisville’s Jefferson County should not count on getting a jury of their peers, the Louisville Courier-Journal reports. People who live in predominantly African-American areas of the county are less likely to serve on juries than those who live in mostly white areas, found a Courier-Journal analysis of 34,000 residents summoned for jury duty in a year’s time. The reasons include the exclusion of black jurors by prosecutors and defense attorneys in criminal cases, as well as by lawyers for both sides in civil trials, the Courier-Journal found.
Blacks also are less likely to report for jury duty because many distrust the criminal justice system and because jury pay is so low that they can’t afford to serve, court officials said. The newspaper found that residents of the county’s ZIP codes with black majorities are being disproportionately eliminated in almost every stage of the selection process — from the moment they are called for service through the time lawyers decide whether to seat them on juries. Although it is illegal to exclude jurors because of race, the law allows attorneys to remove potential jurors, including minorities, for the kinds of clothes they wear, for being single parents, even for the expressions on their faces. Kentucky Chief Justice Joseph Lambert said the system is designed to assure minority representation, but he acknowledged that lawyers are sometimes keeping blacks off juries. “As much as I regret to say it, I have to admit that probably some lawyers do use their peremptory challenges at least in part on the basis of race — not out of a racist motivation, but a motivation to seek a greater number of jurors a lawyer perceives as being favorable to his side of the case,” he said. A Courier-Journal review a half-dozen trials since 2000 in which lawyers or civil-rights advocates said racial bias might have affected the outcome found that five of 72 jurors were black — 7 percent.