Note from John Rubin: I regret to report that Emily Coward is leaving the School of Government. In her nine years at the School as part of our Public Defense Education group, Emily co-authored our defender manual, Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases; directed the North Carolina Racial Equity Network, a program providing a series of trainings for interested North Carolina defenders; and became a national expert in, among other areas, efforts to address racial disparities and bias in jury formation and selection. The good news is that Emily is launching the Inclusive Juries Project (IJP), which will partner with lawyers, scholars, students, court actors, and community members on initiatives aimed at ensuring fair and inclusive juries in North Carolina and nationally. Through research, scholarship, consulting, and educational initiatives, IJP will contribute to jury reform efforts, develop tools and strategies to address juror discrimination, and work to ensure the constitutional promise of the American jury system. We are grateful for Emily’s many contributions while at the School of Government and wish her all the best in her new endeavors.
A Glynn County, Georgia jury will soon determine the fate of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan for their roles in the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia last year. You may have read that the defense attorneys struck eight of the nine, or 88%, of all eligible black jurors. If you haven’t followed the case, the defendants are white, and the victim, Mr. Arbery, was black. Mr. Arbery was out jogging when he was pursued, cut off, and killed by the defendants in their trucks. The jury hearing the case is comprised of 11 white jurors and one black juror; all four alternates are white. Black jurors are underrepresented on this jury in relation to their representation in the county, as 26.6% of Glynn County residents are black. Continue reading →
In my previous post, I wrote about the importance of and legal support for inquiring into prospective jurors’ perspectives on race and racial bias, which may include the Black Lives Matter movement. Let’s imagine that a potential juror expresses a favorable opinion of Black Lives Matter and also states that she can remain impartial and follow the judge’s instructions. If there is an attempt to remove that juror from the pool for cause based on her Black Lives Matter support, should it be sustained? Would it violate Batson to strike a juror on this basis? This post considers those questions. Continue reading →
Yesterday, as you all surely know, a Minneapolis jury returned three guilty verdicts in the criminal trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. It is hard to overstate the magnitude of this trial. Many years from now, we may remember where we were when we received news of the verdict. It is a complex, emotional moment for a country traumatized and, to a certain extent, transformed by the horrifying video of George Floyd’s death last May. Tensions have been high in Minneapolis. Thousands of National Guard troops and law enforcement officers patrolled the city, and in-person school was preemptively cancelled this week in anticipation of the response to the trial’s outcome. Continue reading →
Ramos v. Louisiana, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last Monday and summarized here, holds that the Sixth Amendment impartial jury guarantee gives defendants a right to a unanimous jury verdict in state trials. The case is making waves for reasons tangential to the dispute between the parties: in a dizzyingly split opinion, the justices argue more over the meaning of stare decisis (the court’s obligation to follow its prior holdings) than whether defendants in state courts may be convicted by a less-than-unanimous jury. This aspect of the opinion has been widely discussed (see analysis here, here, here, and here), and foreshadows the justices’ likely battle over an upcoming reproductive rights case. Since the divergent perspectives on stare decisis have been covered elsewhere, I will consider another issue that split the justices: the legal relevance of the nonunanimous jury law’s Jim Crow origins.
First, a pop quiz
Did North Carolina ever allow non unanimous jury verdicts in criminal trials? Read on for the answer. Continue reading →
A “peremptory strike” is a tool used by lawyers to exercise control over who is seated on a trial jury. When selecting a jury, attorneys may use peremptory strikes to remove a certain number of potential jurors for any reason at all, other than race and gender. Since lawyers typically do not have to explain the reasons behind their peremptory strikes, they “constitute a jury selection practice that permits those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate.” Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 96 (1986), quoting Avery v. Georgia, 345 U.S. 559, 562 (1953). In the 1986 case of Batson v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed that peremptory strikes motivated by race violate the Equal Protection Clause; ever since then, challenges to racially motivated jury selection have been referred to as “Batson challenges.” Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). (For an excellent telling of James Batson’s story and the legacy of this decision, check out the More Perfect Podcast, Object Anyway.) Continue reading →
Five years ago, the UNC School of Government published a unique manual, Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases, as part of our Defender Manual Series. Supported by a grant from the Z Smith Reynolds Foundation, the manual examines how issues of race and bias can improperly influence criminal processes and outcomes, and it suggests strategies for lawyers to consider when addressing these issues. I coauthored the manual with former Defender Educator Alyson A. Grine, Professor John Rubin edited it, and a stellar volunteer advisory board, including James Williams, Tye Hunter, Rich Rosen, Mary Pollard, and Breana Smith, provided guidance during the creation of the manual. Continue reading →
Last month, the North Carolina Court of Appeals decided State v. Copley, __ N.C. App. __, 2019 WL 1996441 (May 7, 2019), in which a divided panel held that the trial court abused its discretion by overruling the defendant’s objections to the prosecutor’s remarks about race during closing argument. For that reason, the Court vacated the defendant’s first degree murder conviction. This post discusses the law governing when parties in a criminal trial may discuss issues of race, as well as emerging strategies for mitigating the effects of implicit racial bias on decision-makers. Continue reading →
[Editor’s note: Emily Coward, the author of today’s post, is an attorney who works with the indigent defense education team at the School of Government. She is a co-author of Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases.]
In Foster v. Chatman, a 7-1 opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the U.S. Supreme Court held that prosecutors in Georgia discriminated on the basis of race during jury selection in a 1987 death penalty trial. This post explains the ruling and considers its impact on Batson challenges in North Carolina. Continue reading →