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Diversity of Jury Pool Critical to Fair Outcomes

Aug 21st, 2015

In a recent article by Charles F. Coleman, Jr., Esq., “Jury Duty: Why We Can’t Afford to Dodge It,” published by The Root, civil rights litigation attorney Coleman argues why jury service is important, especially in African American communities, to achieving equality under the law. Coming off a recent federal jury trial, he noted with disappointment the lack of diversity within his jury pool, and moreover, the eagerness of the few diverse jurors to get out of serving. Coleman rightly observes that “[t]he Constitution grants us the right to a speedy trial in front of a jury of our peers. If our peers don’t participate, however, how can we ensure fairness?”

The diversity of jurors is indispensable to obtaining the most fair and just verdict. In the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954), the court recognized the necessity of inclusion to achieve fairness in our criminal justice system when it held that the defendant, a Mexican-American migrant farm worker convicted for the murder of another man, did not get a fair trial in a county where non-whites, and specifically Mexican-Americans, were routinely prohibited from serving on the jury. The court held, for the first time, that the 14th Amendment protects people beyond the white/black racial binary, and includes other racial and ethnic groups.

Inclusion of diverse jurors increases the likelihood that evidence presented at trial will be evaluated and assessed from multiple perspectives, which is fundamental to the process of obtaining an impartial, and again a fair verdict. As Coleman argues, “[f]olks interpret evidence placed before them within the context of their own experiences. If everyone on the jury has had a similar experience or is not challenged to consider a different alternative, things that seem like common sense to “us” suddenly become implausible, and vice versa.” Coleman cites the example of a juror who “might assume that someone who admits running from the police is guilty of something or has something to hide, instead of considering the alternative perspective that this person simply ran because he or she was fearful of cops.” Advocating that jury service should be valued, especially in communities of color, Coleman effectively concludes that “[w]ithout our presence on juries and in these conversations, these important points and alternative views will often go unconsidered as part of deliberations.”

Coleman’s article, and the Hernandez case demonstrate that experience is the most valuable factor in jury selection. The more diverse the jury, the more evidence presented can be filtered through a multiplicity of experience. Accordingly, we should encourage each other to honor, rather than dodge, jury duty.