Reflections on Race & Jury Selection
Research has shown that diverse juries treat non-white defendants better than all-white juries:
However, it is an unfortunate reality of our current legal system that juries can be predominantly or disproportionately composed of white jurors. How does this happen?
It starts with the pool of prospective jurors. In order to serve as a juror, a person must be a U.S. citizen, over the age of 18, living in the court’s jurisdiction, and with the right to vote. Hennepin County itself is 72% white as of the last census. Thus, in Hennepin County, the majority of jury summons sent out go to white residents.
Compounding this reality, lots of systemic factors result in white residents of Hennepin County responding to jury summons more often than their nonwhite counterparts. Jury summons are mailed out, and those sent to many low-income or predominately BIPOC communities often come back to the court as undeliverable or do not come back at all. The costs associated with answering a jury summons are often too high for those who cannot afford to miss a day of work. When you’re poor, choosing to do jury duty can be the difference between being able to pay the rent, and not being able to. In addition, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many community members’ concerns about being in-person in a courtroom have factored into their decision to answer jury summons. Since communities of color have disproportionately borne the weight of the pandemic, this concern may disproportionately impact their willingness to participate in the jury process.
At the end of the day, folks who can afford to take the time to serve on juries do. Those who can’t, don’t. Here, in Minnesota—and especially in Hennepin County—that generally means that our juries pools are even whiter than you would expect. And this is all before the jury selection process begins!
When prospective jurors report for jury duty, they are questioned by the judge, prosecution, and the defense. The prosecution and defense teams are able to use different sorts of strikes to narrow the prospective pool down to the final numbers needed to seat a full jury (see our infographic and videos describing these). Though it is unconstitutional to use these strikes to remove a juror because of race, there are plenty of ways that race becomes a factor in juror questioning. Take into consideration the case of Potential Juror #76 (PJ #76) for the Chauvin Trial.
PJ #76 is a self-described quiet Black man who cheers for the Chicago Bulls. During questioning, he expressed how he had personally dealt with discrimination from the Minneapolis Police Department. When asked, PJ #76 stated that he could set aside his personal experiences and base his decisions off of the facts in this case, a response similar to what other jurors had stated. After his questioning, the Defense used a peremptory strike on PJ #76. Though this strike was not challenged on the basis of race by the Judge or prosecution, it raises an important question: how do you separate one’s race from their everyday living experiences? In the case of PJ #76, quantitative and qualitative data tell us that race was likely a predictive and contributing factor to his history of experiences with police. So for him to have been removed from the jury because of those same experiences is, in fact, not race-neutral, even if on face it seems to be.
At each step of the jury selection process, systemic factors work against BIPOC, excluding them for various reasons, and often resulting in mainly white juries. Though the jury in the Chauvin Trial is more diverse than many, race is certain to have a significant role in this trial.
The Legal Rights Center is proud to welcome University of Minnesota Law students to our team.
Mica Standing Soldier is a community organizer and resident of Minneapolis, where she spent the last three years as a litigation legal assistant for a corporate law firm. Mica believes that community involvement is a fundamental component of any pursuit towards justice. In addition to working in litigation, she has held prominent roles in organizations campus and community wide, focused on developing social and racial equity. She received the President's Student Leadership and Service award during her undergraduate career at the University of Minnesota for her advocacy and impact. Mica holds a BA in English Literature and is currently pursuing a JD at the University of Minnesota Law School.
Emanual Williams is originally from Lovelady, Texas. He is currently a rising 2L at the University of Minnesota Law School. Emanual has a deep passion for criminal justice reform and believes that every voice can and should be heard. He has experience with S.K. Huffer & Associates in Indianapolis. There he used legal skills to establish a pro bono program advocating for basic Will drafting. He spent his undergraduate career at Carleton College, earning a B.A. in Political Science, focused on Democracy, Society, and the State. Emanual became involved with the Legal Rights Center because of his unrelenting commitment to racial equity and community-led political change.
Tony Sanchez is a current dual degree student at the University of Minnesota pursuing a juris doctorate and a master’s in public policy. Tony has previously worked with the Florida House of Representatives and the Public Defender’s Office in two circuits in Florida. Tony makes a conscious effort to bring compassion and empathy into the legal field. Tony is currently an admissions ambassador and law council’s assistant communications director for the University of Minnesota School of Law in hopes of bringing a more diverse student population to the law school and to voice the concerns and questions of the current BIPOC student community.
Mica, Tony and Emanual will be supporting the implementation of our Community Action Plan. The University of Minnesota Law School was instrumental in helping us connect with these students and is supporting our efforts to engage with and support our communities. We thank them and welcome Mica, Tony and Emanual.
With the kind support of:
On May 31, 2020, we wrote that;
"[T]he complaint filed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office charging former officer Chauvin with Third Degree Murder is potentially deficient on its face and therefore incurably defective because, under Minnesota law, Third Degree Murder applies only when the acts of the defendant were committed without regard to their effect on any particular person, and not when the actions were directed to a specific person. Minnesota courts have repeatedly ruled that to support a charge of Third Degree Murder, the offender’s actions need to be “eminently dangerous to more than one person.” This has been the law in Minnesota since 1896 and includes numerous State Supreme Court decisions stretching all the way to the present saying the same thing."
Since then there has been a lot written about the legal drama being played out between the Hennepin Co. District Court, the Minnesota Court of Appeals, and now the Minnesota Supreme Court. Our stance on this issue has not changed.
We've created the infographic above in an attempt to explain why we believe the 3rd Deg. Murder charge currently at issue in the trial of Derek Chauvin is inappropriate. Please, use and share this information.
In addition, Judge Cahill has previously indicated that he does not currently have jurisdiction over the question of reinstating the previously dismissed charge. More thoughts on that after the jump.
MPD Constrained by Court Order
Lost in the midst of last summer's Uprising was the issuance of a court order that constrains the actions of the Minneapolis Police Department ('MPD'). The Legal Rights Center wants everyone in the community to be aware that the Minnesota Department of Human Rights has obtained a court-approved restraining order against the Minneapolis Police Department. The order was agreed upon by MPD, and it provides a number of protections for anyone interacting with an MPD officer. These protections include the following:
The order was obtained as a part of a lawsuit brought by the Department of Human Rights alleging that the killing of George Floyd while in the custody of MPD officer Derek Chauvin amounted to race-based discrimination in violation of state civil rights law. It has been in place since June 5th of last year. It remains in effect during the trial of former MPD officer Derek Chauvin for killing George Floyd.
What does that mean for you? It means that you can help hold MPD accountable. If you observe a potential violation of the court order, such as an officer using a choke hold or excessive force, please report it to the Department of Human rights via their website: https://survey.mn.gov/s.asp?k=159078854680, or by calling 651-539-1100.
More information and a link to the order itself is available on the MDHR website here: https://mn.gov/mdhr/mpd/courtorder/.
If you plan to attend any of the protests for George Floyd, it is extremely important that you know the rights you have in the event that you have contact with the police. Both the ACLU of Minnesota and Minnesota Uprising Arrestee Support are essential resources. Their “know your rights” information can be found here: https://www.aclu-mn.org/en/chauvin-trial-kyr, and here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m1CfaHW4GGt-FPVlvufF9O77stps5-qH/view.
Where will they be held?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: MARCH 5, 2021
Deputy Director for Community Legal Services
Legal Rights Center
Community Asks Minneapolis Leadership: “Where Will They Be Held?”
Today, the Legal Rights Center in partnership with a diverse coalition of concerned individuals and organizations sent a letter to city and county officials with their concerns about the prospective detention of individual protestors and groups of protestors during the trial of Derek Chauvin.
In their letter, community members express concern that due to the fortification of the Hennepin County Government Center and Downtown Minneapolis, demonstrators will be hidden away from legal counsel, those working on their behalf, and the media. They urge the county and city to “transparently engage with those organizing protests, and have the capacity to respect and protect all our due process rights by allowing for legal counsel, those working on their behalf, and those providing jail support to have access to those who will remain detained.
The letter was addressed to Mayor Jacob Frey, Chief Medaria Arradondo, Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson and also sent to Hennepin County Commissioners and Minneapolis City Council Members. The full letter is attached to this post.
The Legal Rights Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit with a mission to work with our communities to seek justice and promote racial equity for those to whom it has been historically denied.
LRC staff include attorneys and advocates from a range of background and lived experiences.
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