Monday, March 21, 2005

I'll change my name to Waspy McKillThoseGuys

That is, if I want to get on a jury around here.

A prosecutor revealed last week that, apparently, it may have been standard practice to exclude Jews and black women from juries on cases involving capital punishment. Your first question might be:

"Yo, that sounds a little multiculturally questionable, but if the effective purpose of jury selection is to give both sides an equal shot at building a receptive jury, how come it's wrong for prosecutors to challenge jurors they think are likely to sympathize with the defense?"

Well, I hope that's not your first question. Because in the courtroom, like in the classroom, workplace, and lunch counter, discrimination based on race or religion is (at least nominally) prohibited by law. And in all of these arenas it's often tough to provide evidence of discrimination, so explicit public testimony from a prosecutor makes a nice change.

Needless to say, the issue has created an enormous amount of turmoil. But there's one question which hasn't been widely addressed, as far as I can see. I won't speak on black women, but are Jews actually less likely to support the death penalty? From the extensive public opinion research I've done so far (to my foreign readership, that's pronounced "Google"), Jews seem to be roughly in line with national trends on capital punishment. I wish I could say different of my people, but hell, it's not like that's a first for me.

So I wondered why prosecutors would stick with this formula if the polls don't bear it out. Geographical difference undoubtedly affect jury selection techniques. Also, it may be that the strength of opinion (i.e. how much they care) makes more of a difference than the basic for/against.

Anybody out there know more about this? Hit me with some comments.

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