New York Law School

Archive for October, 2015

Mr. and Mrs. Irrelevant: Foster v. Chatman and the Problem of Jury Exclusion

2015’s Mr. Irrelevant…do you recall his name off the top of your head? No? Let me give you a hint; his name is essentially two first names. Give up? Gerald Christian. Does that name ring a bell? Do not be alarmed if it does not. His name probably does not mean anything to you unless you are an Arizona Cardinal fan and even then it probably still does not mean that much to you

Gerald Christian was the last pick in this year’s National Football League (“NFL”) annual’s draft which is probably why you do not recognize his name. See, as the last pick, Gerald was given the facetious title of Mr. Irrelevant. That title is bestowed each year on the last player picked in the NFL draft. The evolution of the title developed from the fact the last pick typically failed to make the selecting team’s final roster, thus rendering the player ultimately irrelevant.

In our justice system, sometimes, potential jurors are given the title of either Mr. Irrelevant or Mrs. Irrelevant because like the players in NFL, these potential jurors typically fail to make the “team” as they are routinely excluded from serving on juries. Naturally, the follow up question is: “what do I mean that potential jurors fail to make the team?” Let me explain. In our legal system, lawyers have a tool called a peremptory challenge — a device through which either side in a case can strike a set number of would-be jurors from serving, based not on any demonstrated “cause” or “prejudice” on the part of any potential juror, but on a mere hunch or a feeling that the stricken juror would not be good for that lawyer’s side. But, the right to use peremptory challenges is not without limitations. In Batson v. Kentucky, the United States Supreme Court made it unlawful to strike a potential juror on the basis of race.

So here is the problem, some lawyers and courts have ignored Batson, allowing lawyers to strike potential jurors based on race. As a result, many criminal defendants are appealing their convictions arguing that the prosecution violated Batson in striking people of color from the jury. One of those cases, Foster v. Chatman, will be argued before the Supreme Court this fall. This Georgia case has the ability to reshape future juries throughout the country.

 

Read more