State Supreme Court Raises Bar For Removing Jurors of Color

Jul 6, 2017


A Washington State Supreme Court ruling has raised the bar for removing jurors of color from an all-white panel. In its ruling the high court says courts must now do more analysis to determine if the removal of the juror was based on race. 

The court’s ruling stems from the 2013 case of Matthew Erickson, a black man charged in Seattle with unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest. 

During jury selection the attorney for the city of Seattle removed the only black juror from the panel without giving a reason.  That was allowed under court rules. 

Erikson’s attorney objected, claiming the strike was racially motivated.  He was overruled. 

The Supreme Court disagreed with that judge’s ruling and Erickson will get a new trial. 

The high court ruled when attorneys try to remove the only person of color from a jury the court must ask for a race neutral reason.  The court then must decide if race was a factor in the challenge. 

“What this opinion does is once you’re in the jury pool it asks court to analyze carefully when people of color are being removed from that jury pool but it doesn’t fix the problem of not having enough people of color in the pool in the first place, said Attorney Anita Khandelwal, the policy director at the Office of Public  Defense. 

Researchers have determined that racially diverse juries spend more time deliberating, make fewer errors, and result in fairer trials than non-diverse juries. 

But that’s a challenge in Washington. A recent report to the Supreme Court found that in most counties juries are all white. 

The city of Seattle did not immediately comment on the case. 

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