In today’s video blog post, Devens Hamlen discusses a very recent case that brought up important questions about how much of a role race plays in a jury’s decisions. Watch the video to learn more.
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Below is a transcript of the video:
How Much Does Race Influence A Jury?
Two days ago I had jury trial in which my client was Haitian, he has been in this country for 30 years or so. Prior to the trial starting we had submitted a race questionnaire confidential to the jurors to basically fill out, saying whether they think that because he was black that would affect their judgment or affect whether they could be fair and impartial.
Surprisingly both to me the prosecutor and the judge and somewhat depressingly. 25% to 30% of the questionnaires came back that they race would influence their decision on why my client might be guilty or not guilty. I ended up winning in that case and my client was acquitted of one felony charge in 3 misdemeanors a serious criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.
During the trial part of the underlying theme of the case was that, the complaining witness in the case was exaggerating what has happened because of my client’s race.
I think it was important that the jury knew that and actually didn’t hold it against my client for something that he can’t change, but I think actually, it helped my client in the sense that they understood the racial undertones of their trial.
All the jurors who answered yes on the questionnaires were automatically removed from the jury pool. So, instead of selecting from a hundred jurors we were selecting from 70.
Which obvious doesn’t guarantee because there are people on there who are going to either not admit that they are racist or not want to put in anything. But at least you are starting with somewhat fairer jury pool.
It’s confidential in the sense that jurors only put their jury number on it and then they get destroyed after the case. But, I think it was helpful to have a confidential questionnaire because I’ve never seen a juror walk up to a bench.
If a judge asked the whole jury pool, raise your hand if race would matter to you. I’ve never seen and I’ve heard judges ask that, I have never seen a jury woke up to the bench and say, I can’t be fair and impartial because this person is black or Hispanic or whatever. But by having a confidential questionnaire they are not forced to sort of admit in front of a100 other jurors that they are racists or that it’s at least going to influence their decision. So I think that’s a step in the right direction in trying to get a fair and impartial jury.