NC Supreme Court sends a message to judges: Start taking jury discrimination seriously

Justices' benches at the Supreme Court of the State of North Carolina

In these days of COVID, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by bad news. But we shouldn’t forget to celebrate good news, and we’ve had a little of that in the past week. On Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a decision that sends a clear message: North Carolina’s courts must finally begin to take the exclusion of black jurors from criminal trials seriously.

The decision says that, when a person on trial suggests that a prosecutor struck a  juror because of the juror’s race, the courts must fully investigate. They must consider the history of disproportionate jury strikes in the county, and compare the treatment of white people and people of color in the jury pool to see if it’s been equal.

If these sound like no brainers, that’s because they are. This is the least the courts can do to begin to end the decades-long practice of denying people of color a voice in the criminal punishment system.

But the reality has been that, despite exhaustive studies proving that jury discrimination is a statewide problem, judges across North Carolina have not acknowledged the problem and have often dismissed allegations of jury discrimination out of hand. In this 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court has signaled that era might be coming to a long-overdue end.

For all the details about the decision and what it means, read CDPL’s press release.

—May 6, 2020