Jury Rigged

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Something new for the jury manipulation file: An appeals court in New Jersey has ruled that prosecutors can bar overtly religious people from juries.

The AP reports:

The prosecutor … bounced a white man who said he was a missionary and a black man wearing a long black garment and a skull cap. Neither potential juror was asked about his religious beliefs, but the prosecutor later said the black man was "obviously a Muslim."

After the defense objected, the prosecutor told the trial judge that "people who tend to be demonstrative about their religions tend to favor defendants to a greater extent than do persons who are, shall we say, not as religious."

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  1. while the black man could have been a jew, it sounds from the black robe that he was wearing something like a dish dash… following an arab style of dress… plus the number of black jews are infinitesimal (and since the prosecutor would know his name… you’re not likely going to call a goldstein a muuslim nor a muhammad a jew.. come on jesse, think!!)

    and if a prosecutor believe that a juror won’t be impartial, he has a duty to remove the juror. or would you be comfortable with the presence of a “turn the other cheek” christian invalidating all laws?? rather than just drug laws??

  2. Um … OK, I’ll think. Right now I’m thinking, “How come you’re mixing me up with Eric?” :>

    I do agree that there’s reason to remove some jurors for certain obvious kinds of impartiality — e.g., people personally acquainted with the defendant. But this goes far beyond that.

  3. What’s the big deal about this? During jury selection, the prosecution or the defense can get rid of potential jurors for any reason. And those reasons don’t have to make sense. Heck, if I’m the defense attorney and you’re a juror, I can get rid of you simply because you creep me out if I want to. This is nothing new. Every attorney who goes through jury selection has their own method of how they define their “ideal juror”. Incidentally, I would argue that in many, many cases, the eventual outcome of the case is 100% decided by the composition of the jury – hence the importance that any good attorney attaches to the process of jury selection.

  4. And the fact that both attorneys have to agree on each juror, it’s not like an attorney is forced to accept a juror he doesn’t like.

    Of course, it does mean the attorney’s ability to sneak a questionable juror past a lesser attorney probably has more to do with the outcome.

  5. Well, I think the whole voir dire process has been overextended. This is just one particularly egregious example.

  6. Jesse-
    I agree. I think the whole voir dire process has become ridiculous. With the technology available today, have the computer pick a random twelve from the pool of potential jurors, with the demographics reflecting the neighborhood the defendant lives in.
    A case should be decided by competent presentation of the evidence, nothing else.

  7. Brad S. is misrepresenting the law a bit. Attorneys have a limited number of jurors they can excuse without a cause (e.g., “because you creep me out”). After that, they’ve got to have a reason. What the New Jersey court has ruled is that being religious is a legitimate reason.

    What makes this even more disgusting is that the prosecutor assumes that a black man who wears a skullcap is a) obviously a Muslim (couldn’t he have been a Jew?); and b) that wearing a skullcap is “being demonstrative” about your religion. Would he had said the same about a person wearing a cross around his/her neck?

  8. Eric – you are correct that (in most jurisdictions) there are only a limited number of jurors that either side can dismiss without cause. But isn’t religion a reasonable cause? A person’s religious values certainly inform his/her view of the world, and presumably, they would also shape his/her views on a particular case. I agree that the assumptions that the prosecutor in this case made about people’s religion based on articles of clothing are somewhat disturbing. The last thing I would point out is that “causes” for dismissal can be invented on the fly. For example, I might want to dismiss you simply because “you creep me out” but the cause that I might state to the court would be something like “you are a Libertarian, and in jury trials, Libertarians tend to side with x”…

  9. Well, lawyers can get rid of jurors for almost any reason. If it can be proved that a lawyer is getting rid of all the black people on a jury, that is not legal, even if the lawyer is still using his or her peremptory challenges. Of course, this is very difficult to show to a judge.

    For Equal Protection purposes, religion isn’t as suspect a class as race. There are still areas where it is legal to discriminate on the basis of religion — for example, a church does not have to hire a non-Christian. But I believe that these exceptions are quite limited.

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