Presented with an appalling set of facts, the North Carolina Supreme Court unanimously upheld the defendant’s convictions for murder, kidnapping, sex offense, and felony child abuse. The majority affirmed a sentence of death. Justice Berger’s concurring opinion, addressing only a Miranda issue, was joined by four other justices, making it “the supplemental opinion of the Court.” Justice Earls dissented with regard to capital punishment, concluding the defendant was entitled to a new sentencing hearing. This post summarizes the 225-page opinion in Richardson.
Last April, the North Carolina Supreme Court decided two significant cases involving claims that prosecutors impermissibly exercised peremptory challenges against prospective black jurors based on their race: State v. Hobbs, ___ N.C. ___, 884 S.E.2d 639 (2023) (Hobbs II), and State v. Campbell, ___ N.C. ___884 S.E.2d 674 (2023). This post reviews the framework for the review undertaken by the trial courts in those cases and the state supreme court’s opinions.
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.
This post summarizes opinions issued by the Supreme Court of North Carolina on June 5, 2020.
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.)
[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.
In the recent case of State v. Hurd, the N.C. Court of Appeals upheld a claim by a prosecutor that a defendant’s peremptory strike of a prospective White juror was racially discriminatory, which is the second time that our appellate courts have upheld such a claim. This post briefly reviews the legal requirements for challenges under Batson, analyzes the court’s reasons for sustaining the prosecutor’s challenge in Hurd, and considers the lack of appellate decisions in North Carolina upholding defense challenges to prosecutors’ peremptory strikes of jurors of color.
Scholar john powell succinctly defines implicit bias as “a habit of the mind.” He explains that our brains have a natural tendency to form associations (for example, we might see a tall person and think “basketball player”) in order to make sense of the 5,000 or so images with which we are bombarded each day. This process happens rapidly at an unconscious level and helps us to navigate the world. However, concerns arise when our brains form associations between race and negative traits. For example, in one recent study, researchers concluded that participants held implicit associations between “Black” and “guilty,” and that such associations predicted how they would evaluate ambiguous evidence. A growing body of scholarship, discussed in the School of Government manual Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases (see Section 1.3D in particular), suggests that such unconscious associations affect the perceptions and decisions of court actors, and may contribute to disparate treatment and outcomes in the criminal justice system.
In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), the Supreme Court held that prosecutors could not exercise peremptory challenges based on race. In Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992), the Court extended the same rule to defendants. (Sex discrimination is likewise prohibited, under J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel T.B., 511 U.S. 127 (1994).) Yet … Read more