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Report on Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection Finds Florida Ahead of Southern Neighbors

Good luck getting onto a jury in the South if you're black. And if you're a black defendant, good luck challenging the fact that the prosecutor eliminated potential jurors just because of the color of their skin.

Unless you live in Florida.

The Sunshine State's laws aimed at protecting jurors from racial discrimination are actually stronger than federal antidiscrimination laws, according to a new report released by the Equal Justice Initiative in Birmingham, Alabama.


The study looked at the history of racial discrimination during voir dire in eight Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee. And despite the fact that, according to the report, "Florida courts in a fair number of cases have failed to recognize shocking examples of racial discrimination in jury selection," the state still ranks far ahead of its Southern neighbors.

In Florida, once a prosecutor has given a race-neutral reason for striking a particular juror, the judge must assess whether the reason is "genuine" by considering factors such as whether the prosecutor actually questioned the excluded juror, whether the juror was manipulated into providing answers that would tend to disqualify him from jury service, whether the prosecutor's reason for the strike was related to the facts of the case, and whether other jurors gave similar answers but were not struck.

That stands in stark contrast to other Southern states, where voir dire continues to reveal ugly remnants of Jim Crow.

In South Carolina, for example (and this is not a joke), a prosecutor eliminated a black man from the panel of potential jurors because he "shucked and jived" when he walked. A Georgia prosecutor eliminated a juror because he was black and had a son in an interracial marriage. An Alabama court upheld as "race-neutral: a prosecutor's strike based on the juror's affiliation with an historically black university. A Louisiana prosecutor eliminated a black juror whom he thought "looked like a drug dealer."

The report makes a point of saying Florida is "far from perfect," but that better than anywhere else in the South, Florida's protections effectively discourage overt discrimination in jury selection. In essence, Florida may still be disgustingly corrupt, loaded with institutional and historical racism. But things could be much worse.

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Michael J. Mooney