Saturday, November 17, 2007

Jury wheel at the White Plains courthouse is constitutional

A capital murder case in the White Plains courthouse of the Southern District of New York led the defendants to challenge the fairness of the jury selection procedure. Racial minorities are under-represented in these jury pool. But, the trial court held, that does not mean the defendants will be denied a fair trial. Motion to stay the trial denied.

The case is United States v. Barnes, 04 Cr. 186 (SCR), reported at 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77426 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 15, 2007). Judge Robinson summarized the findings of a report analyzing the jury pool in the northern counties of the Southern District of New York. While most media coverage of SDNY proceedings focus on the heralded Foley Square courthouse in downtown Manhattan, the White Plains courthouse in suburban Westchester County is no slouch, both architecturally and in terms of the quality of the Federal bench. But the report, conducted by law professors, found the following statistical anomalies:

1. Whites comprise 71.56 percent of the population in the northern counties but make up 78.10 percent of the qualified jury wheel.

2. Blacks comprise 10.66 percent of the population but make up 7.42 percent of the qualified jury wheel.

3. Hispanics comprise 12.19 percent of the population but make up 8.96 percent of the qualfied jury pool.

In other words, according to the report, "White-Americans are therefore overrepresented by approximately 5 percent in the Qualified Jury Pool relative to their voting age population, while African-Americans ar underrepresented by 2.8 percent and Hispanic-Americans are under-represented by 2.3 percent."

Citing the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a jury selected from a fair cross-section of the community, these statistics prompted the defendants to move to stay the trial on the grounds that the SDNY is not properly selecting juries for the White Plains courthouse. The trial court disagreed, applying a statistical analysis called "absolute disparity" in finding that the defendant will not receive an unfair trial, reasoning as follows:

African-Americans are underrepresented by approximately 2.8 percent and Hispanic Americans by approximately 2.3 percent. This would require the addtion of between one and two African-Americans and one and two Hispanic-Americans to a 60 person venire in ordder to reach proportionality. Similar figures have not been repeatedly held to not support a fair cross-section claim.

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