BRUNSWICK, Georgia. “Although he approved the election of an almost all-white jury this week to hear the murder of three white men accused of murdering Ahmaud Arbury, a Georgia judge said there was a semblance of“ deliberate discrimination ”in the game.
But Judge Timothy R. Walmsley of the Glynn County Superior Court also said defense lawyers presented legitimate non-race reasons to justify the removal of eight would-be black jurors. And that, he said, was enough to reject the prosecution’s attempt to transplant them.
What might have seemed like confusing logic to non-lawyers was in fact the judge’s scrupulous adherence to a 35-year-old Supreme Court ruling that was supposed to eliminate racial bias in the jury selection process – but was considered a failure by many. legal scholars.
The guidelines set by the ruling have played a central role in the intense litigation that erupted in court late Wednesday night over the racial jury in a three-accused trial, which is set to begin Friday. The argument raised fundamental questions about what it means to be a fair and impartial jury, especially in a high-profile trial set in a small, interconnected community, where almost everyone has an opinion on a case.
Defense attorneys told Judge Walmsley that there are important, race-neutral reasons to remove several black jury candidates. According to them, one person played school football with Mr. Arbury. Another told lawyers that “this whole thing is about racism.”
But the fact that the jury will consist of 11 whites and one black in the Deep South trial of the murder of a black man deeply alarmed some locals who were already concerned about a fair trial.
“This jury is like a black eye for those of us who have been here for generations, whose ancestors labored and labored and laid the foundation for this community,” said Delores Polite, a social activist and distant relative of Mr. Arbury, who was fatally shot last year after being chased by three men who suspected him of a series of break-ins.
More broadly, the racially one-sided jury in a district of roughly 27 percent black and 64 percent white underscores the enduring challenges that American courts face in applying what appears to be a simple constitutional principle: that equal justice “requires free criminal justice. racial discrimination in the jury selection process, ”Judge Brett M. Cavanaugh said in the 2019 ruling.
At the heart of the Georgia case and many other similar cases where white people dominate the jury is the ability of lawyers to raise a limited number of peremptory objections, which usually do not require an explanation in order to remove potential jurors from the jury. process. Lawyers usually wield wide discretionary powers, but in the landmark 1986 case, Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled that lawyers cannot discriminate on the basis of race when filing appeals.
Since then, attorneys suspecting the other side of a racially motivated jury shift can challenge this, a move often referred to as the “Batson challenge.”
This is what happened for nearly two hours on Wednesday at the Glynn County courthouse as lawyers detailed to Judge Walmsley about the reasons they thought each of the eight black residents should not sit, such as the hashtags of Arbury supporters, the jury posted on the Internet their negative opinions about three defendants – Gregory McMichael, 65; his son Travis McMichael, 35; and their neighbor William Brian, 52.
Laura D. Hogue, one of senior Mr. McMichael’s lawyers, described peer strike as an important tool for lawyers to “weed out the worst of the worst,” by which she meant people who seemed irreparably biased.
Attorney General Linda Dunikoski refused each case. She argued that a number of would-be jurors were honest with lawyers about their knowledge and opinions of the case, but were then dismissed by the defense on the basis of those opinions – even when they said they could have been impartial if they had been sitting.
Ms Dunikoski also noted that the 12-member jury was selected from a jury of 12 blacks and 36 whites – and yet, in her words, “there was actually only one African American man. ” The prosecution used all 12 of their definitive strikes against potential white jurors.
Judge Walmsley spoke like a man whose hands are tied by law. “I’ll tell you,” he said at one point, “in this case, I think Batson’s limitations are clearly not obvious.”
On Thursday, in front of the courthouse, activists said that the process was actually violated.
“It’s not racially neutral,” said Barbara Arnwein, a lawyer and member of a group called the Coalition for the Reform of Justice. “It was a racial persecution of a black jury. It was insincere to lie and pretend it was about something other than getting rid of the black jury. “
Understand the murder of Ahmaud Arbury
Shooting. On February 23, 2020, Ahmoud Arbury, a 25-year-old black man, was gunned down after being chased by three white men while jogging outside his home on the outskirts of Brunswick, Georgia. The murder of Mr. Arbury was captured in a graphic video that was widely viewed by the public.
The case against the people accused of the murder of Mr. Arbury is a rare case in which the attorney challenges Batson; most often they are issued by lawyers trying to prevent prosecutors from excluding minority members from the jury selection process. A number of studies have looked at prosecutors and found that they have fired twice or three times more black jurors than other people in states such as Alabama, Louisiana, and North Carolina.
Batson’s effectiveness as a tool for eliminating racial bias in jury selection has come under heavy criticism in recent years from legal scholars. In a California Law Review article last year, attorney Annie Sloan argued that Batson is now “widely viewed as a toothless and inadequate solution that cannot lessen the unfair exclusion of colored jurors.”
Ms Sloane noted that Batson’s objections are rarely successful, in part because it was too easy for lawyers to come up with a racially neutral justification for their strike. And she argued that Batson ignores latent bias, which means lawyers can strike racially motivated juries without even realizing it.
Ms Sloane pointed out what she saw as an encouraging modification of Batson by Washington State, where a 2018 Supreme Court ruling prohibits a peremptory challenge if an “objective observer” believes the race or ethnicity of the jury is a factor in their rejection.
California took a similar approach in 2020. Arizona will ban imperative strikes from January 1.
Some legal scholars who criticize Batson believe that outright strikes are still taking place, as they serve as an important test against a biased jury. Stephen B. Bright, a professor at Yale Law School and Georgetown Law School, said he is in favor of limiting the number of peremptory strikes to three on each side.
On Wednesday in Brunswick, Judge Walmsley referred to Washington as one of the states “that looked to Batson and acknowledged the restrictions he places on the court.” In Georgia, he noted that all lawyers need to overcome Batson’s problem is to provide an explanation that is “legal, non-discriminatory, clear, sufficiently specific and related” to the case.
Now Brunswick is concerned that faith in the justice system has been undermined by the selection of a racially unbalanced jury.
Charlie Bailey, a former senior assistant district attorney for Fulton County, Georgia, acknowledged the legal restrictions on a judge. However, he described the jury as fundamentally unfair to the community and family of Mr. Arbury.
“Eleven out of 12 is 11 out of 12,” said Mr. Bailey, a Democrat running for Georgia’s attorney general. “I find it hard to believe – and I think most people find it hard to believe – that 11 out of 12 have nothing to do with race.”