Who Are Your Peers?

Should you be accused of a crime, you are guaranteed a trial by a jury of your peers. What does that mean, exactly? We get the rule from Magna Carta, where it meant that a baron accused by the king was entitled to be tried by others of similar independence of rank and station -- and not, say, by several of the king's lackeys. The independence of the jurors is meant to prevent you from being railroaded by a system of closed power.

The American system usually thinks that all citizens are peers, being free men or free women. A judge in Louisville thinks that isn't sufficient:

Unhappy with the number of potential black jurors called to his court last week, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens halted a drug trial and dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up.

“The concern is that the panel is not representative of the community,” said Stevens, who brought in a new group of jurors despite objections from both the defense and prosecutor....

“There is not a single African-American on this jury and (the defendant) is an African-American man,” Stevens said, according to a video of the trial. “I cannot in good conscious go forward with this jury.”
I'm of two minds about that. On the one hand, it's a tremendously bad decision insofar as it seeks to further enshrine race as a category of thought (and, even, of law). On the other hand, pragmatically rather than philosophically speaking, the judge is probably right that it makes a huge difference to the defendant's likely outcomes at trial. So while there is a bad legal principle at work, it is conceivable that the defendant would get a fairer trial if race were taken into account. The particular trial is about the particular defendant, who either is or is not guilty of the offenses with which he is charged. The business of the particular trial is to come to a fair and, hopefully, correct decision about that -- not to display grand legal principles, but to set a man free if he is not guilty of the crime with which he is charged. That's why we have trials by jury at all: we could enforce the law without them, as long as we weren't worried about whether the state was accurate in the charges it filed.

It'll be interesting to see what the state Supreme Court says. My guess is that they will come down against him, if only because it would open the state to having to re-consider goodness knows how many earlier cases in which black men were convicted by all-white juries. Indeed, presumably every black man convicted previously could file an appeal on those grounds, since we wouldn't have necessarily kept a record of the race of jurors.


Gringo said...

Google Bronx Juries.

E Hines said...

It's a racist judge, pure and simple.

All the members of the panel were Americans, as far as I can tell, and so all peers of the defendant. The defense was happy with the panel he'd had a major role in choosing; the trial would have been fair on that point.

The relevant legislature needs to remove him from the bench, with prejudice. Fat chance of that, though.

Among the things the "reporter" carefully elided, too, is whether "minorities" disproportionately shirked their duty to report for jury duty when summoned.

Eric Hines

Ymar Sakar said...

Jury duty requires sacrifice, the black culture that believes it is the white man that sacrifices, certainly may be part of why there are so few candidates.

If one were to use "independence" as the rule of law, then half this country would fail that qualification.

douglas said...

Who are my peers? If I'm lucky, y'all here at the Hall.