Over the last couple of weeks I have thought a lot about George Floyd and the impact that his senseless death has had upon our Nation. As I watched video footage and news reports of the rallies and marches, one question kept running through my mind– what are these people actually accomplishing? The more that I thought about this, the more irritated I became. There are so many people quick to go stand on a corner with a sign or post something on social media about needing change, but yet totally apathetic when it actually comes to doing something that would make a huge impact on how the criminal justice system treats people of color– showing up for jury duty.
So let me explain how potential jurors are summoned for jury duty using Brazos County as an example. The Brazos County District Clerk receives a list of qualified jurors from the Secretary of State that consists of Brazos County residents who are either: 1) registered to vote, 2) hold a Texas driver’s license, or 3) hold a Texas identification card. The names of these residents are then entered into the county’s “jury wheel” which basically is a computer program that generates jury panels for each courts’ trial dates. In doing so, this computer program utilizes data from census bureau reports in an attempt to produce jury panels that are a racial cross section of the county’s qualified jurors. So a typical panel of eighty (80) potential jurors summoned for a felony jury trial would roughly consists of:
1 Native American/Pacific Islander
Being a criminal defense
attorney, I take great pride in the fact that I fight to make sure that the rights of my clients are not violated by law enforcement, prosecutors or the judiciary. In doing so, I have taken hundreds of cases to trial and asked jurors to decide the fate of my clients because I truly believe that a jury’s duty is to act, “as a vital check against the wrongful exercise of power by the State and its prosecutors.” So jury panels and their composition are really important to me. But after doing this for 20+ years I sadly have to report that when it comes to people of color, especially blacks, a very low percentage show up and participate when they are summoned to appear for jury duty.
If you are reading this and think that I am calling you out, you are absolutely correct. I am sick of looking at a panel of 80+ potential jurors and seeing that only 2-3 blacks showed up when there should be 9-10. I am sick of going to trial and fighting my ass off for my black clients just to watch them get lit up by all white juries that simply cannot relate or appreciate the adversities and struggles that my clients have experienced.
You stand with a sign chanting you want change. You make post after post on social media demanding justice. Then really do something about it. Get registered to vote if you are not. Get a Texas driver’s license or identification card if you do not currently have one. If you do have one, make sure that DPS has your current address where the county’s jury services can send correspondence to a good address. When you are summoned for jury duty– show up! A diverse jury improves the criminal justice system. When people of varying viewpoints enter a jury room to decide a defendant’s fate, they are going to have longer deliberations. They are going to ask more questions and more objective decisions are going to be made. So when we increase the diversity across the board with race, with gender, socioeconomic status, we are going to get a better outcome. A minority perspective during the deliberation process can truly have a huge impact on the outcome of a trial be it at guilt/innocence or punishment.
My words of advice on how to make a truly impactful change is to SHOW UP for jury duty and encourage others, especially those of color, to do the same.