In a perfect world, justice would be blind. No matter the race, age or sex of the defendant, everyone would have a fair trial with an impartial jury. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the real world. It is well-settled through numerous studies that who a defendant is can have just as much of an impact on a verdict as whether or not they actually committed the crime.
In the wake of the trial of George Zimmerman, the issue of race in the justice system has been thrust into the national spotlight. And just as race can be a major factor in jurors’ decisions in a courtroom, race can sharply divide those who support and those who oppose a jury’s verdict. The Washington Post and ABC conducted a poll last week of 1,002 people across the country, which showed the following statistics about the Zimmerman/Martin case:
- 87% of African-Americans say the shooting was unjustified, whereas 33% of whites say so.
- 86% of African-Americans disagree with the jury’s verdict, whereas 49% of whites disagree.
- 81% of African-Americans say the federal government should charge Zimmerman with federal civil rights violations, whereas 27% of whites say so. 59% of whites are against such charges being brought.
From the above statistics, it is clear that the vast majority of African-Americans would have convicted George Zimmerman. Whites, on the other hand, are more evenly split. This raises the issue of jury selection: In an adversarial justice system such as ours where the prosecution and defense are heatedly pitted against each other, should attorneys be allowed to strike jurors based on race since a jury of blacks would almost certainly have convicted? Batson v. Kentucky (1986) and Georgia v. McCollum (1992) preclude peremptory challenges based on race by the prosecution and defense, respectively, but the above statistics call these cases into question when applied to the real world.
Should peremptory challenges based on race be allowed in trials such as Zimmerman’s? If not, should attorneys be allowed to strike jurors for cause based on race if it influences their decisions this much? Let us know what you think in the comments.