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U.S. Supreme Court

High Court to Decide if Dearth of Blacks in Jury Pool Was Unconstitutional

Posted Sep 30, 2009 1:03 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated because there were only three African Americans among the jury pool available to hear his case.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in the case of Diapolis Smith, who was found guilty of a second-degree murder by an all-white jury in Kent County, Mich., in 1991, the Associated Press reports. The pool of 60 to 100 prospective jurors for Smith’s case had only three blacks. At issue is whether Smith’s right to a fair cross section of the jury was violated, according to the petition for certiorari (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog).

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had overturned Smith’s conviction, citing the “systematic exclusion” of jurors, according to the AP account. The cert petition argues Smith’s habeas petition should not have been granted because there was no clearly established violation of Supreme Court precedent. Nine federal appeals courts “have examined similar disparities as advanced here and found no constitutional violation,” the cert petition says.

Smith had claimed blacks were underrepresented in jury pools partly because the county routinely excused potential jurors due to problems with child care, transportation or work conflicts. He also said blacks in Grand Rapids were being diverted to duty in a city court, taking them off county jury roles.

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