Rigging the Jury

February 27, 2009

For more than 100 years, the United States Supreme Court has overturned criminal convictions handed down by juries that excluded blacks from the jury pool. As early as 1881, the Supreme Court has considered whether “by the Constitution and laws of the United States, every citizen of the United States has a right to a trial of an indictment against him by a jury selected and impanelled without discrimination against his race or color, because of race or color” Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880).

In the 100 years following Strauder, the Supreme Court has thrown out conviction after conviction where it was discovered that black jurors were not fairly represented within the jury pools. Congress eventually codified the Supreme Court’s decisions into the Jury Selection and Service Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1861 et. seq. Under this Act, the federal courts must ensure that its jury pools are representative of the community and that the counties within each federal district are “substantially proportionally represented in the master jury wheel” 18 U.S.C. § 1863(b)(3). If these provisions are violated, a criminal defendant can ask that the indictment against him be dismissed, or that the proceedings be stopped until the problem is fixed.

According to a physical inspection of the master jury wheel for the Eastern District of Michigan, the federal court is employing a jury selection plan that is grossly unconstitutional. Court records reveal that black jurors and Wayne County residents are being systematically excluded and under represented on the court’s jury pools in favor of white jurors from the district’s predominately Caucasian counties. The inspection also revealed that almost 10% of the master jury wheel contains the names of dead people some of whom died as long ago as 1991. This is a serious problem, and it needs to be fixed.

Without a legitimate jury selection process, any and all indictments and convictions coming out of the court are constitutionally infirm. As the United States Supreme Court stated in Glasser v. United States, 315 U.S. 60 (1942):

The proper functioning of the jury system, and, indeed, our democracy itself, requires that the jury be a ‘body truly representative of the community.