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.
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.
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.
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.
The Supreme Court issued a per curiam opinion yesterday, reversing the Sixth Circuit in a capital case. The opinion doesn’t necessarily break new doctrinal ground but it is an interesting application of existing law, and it provides a window into an ongoing dispute between two federal appellate courts.
According to the News and Observer, the trial of Laurence Lovette begins today in Hillsborough. Lovette is charged with the first-degree murder of Eve Carson, who was, at the time of her death, the president of the student body at UNC – Chapel Hill. The case is non-capital, because Lovette was 17 at the time … Read more
Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court decided Berghuis v. Smith, a case in which the defendant claimed that the pool from which his jury was selected was not a fair cross section of the community. In my experience, it is not uncommon for a defendant, particularly a minority defendant, to look at the jury pool … Read more