News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JUNE 19, 2005


Courts should take care not to perpetuate bias

Courts should take care that their efforts to end racial bias in juries does not perpetuate the problem.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a Texas murder conviction Monday after determining prosecutors intentionally kept blacks off the jury. The defendant, sentenced to death, was black.

Under the facts of the case, the court's decision was understandable. Prosecutors struck nine of the 10 blacks eligible to serve on the jury.

Lurking behind such appellate reversals, however, is a problem that could undermine the goals the Supreme Court seeks to advance.

All such cases come about because prosecutors assume that jurors are racially biased in their evaluation of the evidence.

Certainly the assumption of jury bias has the badge of historical accuracy. By institutionalizing the assumption's validity, however, appellate courts risk perpetuating a practice that might otherwise die of its own accord.

The problem becomes clear if we accept a hypothetical. Assume that race is a non-factor in jury deliberations.

Prosecutors raised in a more racially polarized society will assume jury bias exists long after that bias ends.

In this hypothetical picture, court interference in the jury selection process prevents a critical educational process. If jurors no longer evaluate evidence through the prism of racism, prosecutors will eventually catch on. Acquittals of black defendants by white juries will eventually lead prosecutors to conclude that their precious supply of jury strikes is best saved to eliminate jurors for characteristics other than race.

This is a lesson prosecutors will not learn if courts prevent them from stacking jurors with those of a particular race. The racial-bias assumption goes untested if courts demand racially neutral jury selection.

Unbiased juries are central to the American concept of justice. Courts need to take care, however, not to perpetuate racial bias as they try to correct it.

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