In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
The above text (sic) is from the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, part of the United States Bill of Rights. For the purposes of the post, we are concerned with caveat of impartial jury. It is no secret that our history is one of racial turmoil, and one could easily make the case that some Americans are more likely to receive a fair trial than others. Where one lives, and their racial demographic, can make a huge difference regarding the makeup of a “jury of one’s peers.”
Anyone who has taken U.S. History in high school can probably remember learning about the Jim Crow laws that emerged during Reconstruction in the South following the Civil War. Simply put, the disenfranchisement of an entire race. Separate, but equal could not be further from the truth.
Racial Bias In The Courthouse Today
While it goes without saying, much has changed in the U.S. regarding its treatment of ethnic minorities getting a fair shake across the country, it could easily be argued that we still have a long way to go regarding equality. It is not a coincidence that in state prisons, African-Americans are incarcerated at 5.1 times and Latinos at 1.4 times the rate of whites, according to a study published by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit that advocates criminal justice reform.
One of the reasons for such over-representation of minorities in the penal system is likely what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy calls “racial bias in the American justice system.” Courthouse News reports. Justice Kennedy’s statement came about from Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado (2017). The highest court in the nation ruled that the Sixth Amendment requires a court in a criminal trial to investigate whether a jury’s guilty verdict was based on racial bias.”
Senate Bill 576
Peña-Rodriguez’s was convicted of unlawful sexual contact and harassment, to which his attorney would go on to argue that the conviction was based on racial bias after one of the jurors said he believed Pena-Rodriguez was guilty because he is Mexican, according to the article. In an effort to stop incidences like Peña-Rodriguez’s from happening in California, State Senator Scott Wiener, has introduced Senate Bill 576; which would study the ethnic and racial makeup of prospective jurors.
“The right to a fair jury trial is one of the pillars of our justice system, and this bill will ensure our jury selection process is delivering on that fundamental democratic promise,” said Sen. Wiener. “Juries should represent the diverse communities they are drawn from, but right now we have no way of knowing if those showing up for jury duty are an accurate representation of these communities. By collecting demographic information, we can analyze our jury pools in order to determine if our current system is working. SB 576 will help us to achieve more balanced and equitable juries.”
SB 576 is an important bill that, if passed, could lead California’s black and Latinos getting fair trials in America’s most progressive state. At the Law Office at Ronald G. Brower, we will continue to follow this story, as it could have huge implications for our prospective clients. If you have been charged with a crime, please contact us today.