Discriminatory Acquittal

By Tetlow, Tania | The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal, October 2009 | Go to article overview

Discriminatory Acquittal


Tetlow, Tania, The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal


This article is the first to analyze a pervasive and unexplored constitutional problem: the rights of crime victims against unconstitutional discrimination by juries. From the Emmett Till trial to that of Rodney King, there is a long history of juries acquitting white defendants charged with violence against black victims. Modern empirical evidence continues to show a devaluation of black victims; dramatic disparities exist in death sentence and rape conviction rates according to the race of the victim. Moreover, just as juries have permitted violence against those who allegedly violated the racial order, juries use acquittals to punish female victims of rape and domestic violence for failing to meet gender norms. Statistical studies show that the "appropriateness" of a female victim's behavior is one of the most accurate predictors of conviction for gender-based violence.

Discriminatory acquittals violate the Constitution. Jurors may not constitutionally discriminate against victims of crimes any more than they may discriminate against defendants. Jurors are bound by the Equal Protection Clause because their verdicts constitute state action, a point that has received surprisingly little scholarly analysis. Finally, defendants have no countervailing right to jury nullification based on race or gender discrimination against victims. The Sixth Amendment promises defendants an "impartial" jury, not a partial one.

Double jeopardy prohibits a direct remedy for the problem of discriminatory acquittal, and jury secrecy makes proof difficult. Yet recognizing the unconstitutionality of discriminatory acquittal would result in fundamental normative shifts. It would create a new constitutional language for prosecutors and judges to protect victims against jury discrimination within our existing criminal procedure. Most of all, the pervasiveness of discriminatory acquittals could no longer serve as a legitimating excuse for police and prosecutors to magnify the problem by conducting thenown anticipatory underenforcement of the law.

INTRODUCTION .................................................. 76

I. THE PROBLEM OF DISCRIMINATORY ACQUITTAL ..................... 81

A. Using Acquittals to Endorse Racial Violence After Slavery ......... 82

B. Modern Racially Discriminatory Acquittals, a Racial Lack of Empathy ................................................ 84

C. Condoning Sexual Violence Against Black Women ............... 88

D. Using Acquittals in Rape and Domestic Violence Cases to Enforce the Gender Power Structure .................................... 90

E. The Impact of Discriminatory Acquittals ....................... 94

II. DISCRIMINATORY CONVICTIONS ................................. 95

A. Jury Discrimination Is Unconstitutional ........................ 96

B. Difficulties of Proof ........................................ 97

C. Using Statistics to Prove the Likelihood of Jury Discrimination .... 100

D. Procedures to Diminish the Risk of Jury Discrimination Against Defendants ............................................. 102

III. DISCRIMINATORY ACQUITTALS VIOLATE THE CONSTITUTION .......... 103

A. Jury Verdicts Constitute State Action ......................... 105

B. Discriminatory Acquittals Violate the Equal Protection Clause ..... 107

C. Equal Protection Analysis Does Not Require Fundamental Rights .. 109

D. Jury Nullification Cannot Be Based on Unconstitutional Discrimination ........................................... Ill

E. Impossibility of Direct Remedy .............................. 116

TV. THE IMPORTANCE OF RECOGNIZING DISCRIMINATORY ACQUITTAL AND INSTRUMENTAL APPROACHES .................................. 117

A. Using Discriminatory Acquittal as an Excuse for Discriminatory Underenforcement ........................................ 118

B. Remembering the Victim in Equal Protection Regulation of Criminal Trials . …

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