Academic journal article Justice System Journal

A Jury of One's "Peers": The Racial Impact of Felon Jury Exclusion in Georgia*

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

A Jury of One's "Peers": The Racial Impact of Felon Jury Exclusion in Georgia*

Article excerpt

African-Americans are overrepresented in felony convictions and, thus, more likely to be excluded from jury service. This study examines the potential impact of felon jury exclusion on the proportion of African-Americans that remain eligible for jury service. Results indicate that felon jury exclusion dramatically reduces the pool of eligible African-Americans statewide by nearly one-third. Furthermore, the level of exclusion for all groups is concentrated in areas with higher African-American populations. When limiting the analysis to African-Americans, however, counties with low African-American populations tend to have the highest levels of African-American exclusion. OLS regression models support the notion that the concentration of African-Americans at the county level is a significant factor in all three model specifications. The nature of this relationship, however, changes dramatically across the models.

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When any large and identifiable segment of the community is excluded from jury service, the effect is to remove from the jury room qualities of human nature and varieties of human experience, the range of which is unknown and perhaps unknowable.

Supreme Court Justice Marshall in Peters v. Kiff (1972).

African-Americans continue to be underrepresented as jurors over a century after the Supreme Court's ruling in Strauder v. West Virginia (1879), which prohibited juror disqualifications based on race (Abramson, 1994; Kennedy, 1997; Kalt, 2003; Jonakait, 2003). In spite of this seminal court decision, there has been little headway in increasing the representation of African-American jurors. Attempts to explain the persistence of underrepresentation of black jurors has focused primarily on courtroom factors such as preemptory challenges1 (Kennedy 1997) and change of venue (Fukurai and Krooth, 2003; Fukurai, Butler, and Krooth, 1993, 1991). To be sure, legal procedures play an important role in the continued under-representation of AfricanAmerican jurors (Fukurai and Krooth, 2003; Fukurai, Butler, and Krooth, 1993). Another potential source of racial inequality in the jury system has received far less attention. This study highlights the potential impact of felon jury exclusion laws on the continued underrepresentation of African- American jurors.

Most jurisdictions exclude individuals with felon status from jury service. At the federal level, this ban can only be lifted when ex-felons take steps to restore their civil rights - a process that does not guarantee their rights will be restored (28 U.S.C. § 1865 (b)(5)). At the state level, the majority of states ban current felons from serving on juries (forty-eight out of fifty states and the District of Columbia); thirty-one states ban individuals with felon status from serving on a jury for life. Four have conditional lifetime bans, and the remaining fifteen states exclude individuals with felon status during sentencing, supervision, or some specified period (Kalt, 2003). Maine and Colorado are currently the only states that do not exclude individuals with felon status from serving as petit jurors (although Colorado does not permit this group to serve as grand jurors). This study demonstrates how felon jury exclusion can amplify persistent racial gaps in juries. It is my contention that felon jury exclusion serves to amplify persistent racial gaps in juries.

Assessing the impact of these laws is a difficult task because the racial composition of juries is the function of numerous organizational and legal decisions. The choice of venue, composition of jury pools, and preemptory challenges all contribute to the racial composition of juries. Furthermore, while laws that exclude individuals with felon status from serving jury duty, by definition, limit the eligible pool of jury members, there is no guarantee that even if selected for duty, a particular individual would advance to a grand or trial jury. …

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