U.S. Supreme Court

'Laundry List' of Reasons for Lack of Jury Diversity Loses in Supreme Court


The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against a Michigan man who contended that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated because African-Americans were underrepresented in jury venires.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the unanimous opinion (PDF). The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had erred, Ginsburg said, when it found a clearly established violation of the defendant’s right to a representative jury pool.

An all-white jury had convicted Diapolis Smith of second-degree murder in 1993 for a bar shooting in which 37 witnesses testified, including Smith. Only two identified Smith as the triggerman. Five said Smith was not the shooter. At most, three venire members were African-American.

Smith had argued that potential African-American jurors were underrepresented because of a “siphoning” system that assigned potential jurors first to local district courts, and then to the countywide courts that heard felony cases. He also contended that diversity was affected because the county had excused jurors for hardship without requiring adequate proof, and because police did not enforce orders to appear.

His statistical expert testified that, at the time of Smith’s jury selection, African-Americans were by one statistical measure 35 percent less likely, when compared to the overall jury eligible population, to be on the juror assignment list.

Ginsburg noted a Michigan Supreme Court decision finding insufficient evidence to establish that siphoning created racial disparities in the countywide jury pool. She also pointed to Smith’s “laundry list” of factors alleged to cause systematic underrepresentation, including the hardship allowances.

“No ‘clearly established’ precedent of this court supports Smith’s claim that he can make out a prima facie case merely by pointing to a host of factors that, individually or in combination, might contribute to a group’s underrepresentation,” Ginsburg wrote.

Prior and related ABAJournal.com coverage:

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

Murder Defendant Wants Trial Delayed to Get Post-Census Jury Pool

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