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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Black Jurors Not ‘Systemically Excluded’

(CN) - Blacks were not "systematically excluded" during the jury selection process of a Kent County, Mich., murder trial even though they were underrepresented, the Supreme Court ruled.

Under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defendants are entitled to an impartial jury drawn from a pool that reflects "a fair cross section of the community." In 1993, Diapolis Smith, who is black, was convicted by an all white jury of killing another man during a bar brawl.

At the time of Smith's trial, blacks constituted just over 7 percent of Kent County's jury eligible population.

During Smith's voir dire, felony charges in Kent County were tried in a sole Circuit Court. After filling the district court's need for jurors, the remaining prospective jurors were sent to the Circuit Court's panels.

By the time the remaining prospects pooled for the Circuit Court's selection, most of the minority jurors had already been assigned to other trials.

Smith argued that the juror selection process, which he called did not adequately represent the black community in Kent County.

Smith relied on statistics proving that in the six months before trial, blacks were on average 18 percent less likely then other groups in the eligibility pool to be on the jury service list.

Smith also presented statistics showing that blacks are less likely to be jury members because of problems like social and economic hardship.

A 6th Circuit appeals panel agreed with Smith and overturned a Michigan Supreme Court decision that ruled Smith had failed to show systematic exclusion of blacks. The 6th Circuit panel "found the matter settled," and granted Smith habeas corpus relief. Smith was released from prison.

The Supreme Court rejected the conclusion that the underrepresentation of blacks was due to a systematic problem.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, "In short, Smith's evidence gave the Michigan Supreme Court little reason to conclude that the district-court-first assignment order had a significantly adverse impact on the representation of African Americans on Circuit Court venires."

The Michigan Supreme Court's determination was not unreasonable and so "the 6th Circuit had no warrant to disturb is," Ginsburg wrote.

In a concurring statement, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote, "Historically, juries did not include a sampling of persons from all levels of society or even from both sexes."

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