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Federal Court’s Jury Selection Plan Under Fire

Speaker 1: 00:00 When a new administration takes power in Washington, there's usually a shakeup among federal prosecutors around the nation up in LA. For instance, the us attorney appointed by former president. Trump has just resigned, but here in San Diego is there's a more fundamental issue about federal court procedure. That's coming under fire. The us district court for the Southern district of California has published its plan to increase the diversity of jurors. But critics say their proposal will not correct. A racial imbalance that has existed for decades. Joining me is voice of San Diego reporter Maya, Sri Krishnan, and Maya. Welcome to the program. Speaker 2: 00:40 Thank you so much for having me. Speaker 1: 00:42 My, uh, the court's plan was submitted for public comment last month. What kind of reaction did it get? Speaker 2: 00:49 So several different groups, including a group of federal defense attorneys who work in the district, um, community organizations, and then law professors and social scientists from around the country, all submitted letters, expressing concern that the district is not doing several best practices to help diversify its juries and ensure that they're actually representative of the community that it's serving. So one of the biggest criticisms, um, that was present in all the letters was that the district was planning to continue its use of only voter registration lists as its sole source to pull candidates for its master jury wheel. When it's generally recommended to use other less than addition to that, like DMV records or a state list of tax filers. Speaker 1: 01:33 So why would limiting the jury pool to the names on voter rolls? Why would that tend to limit black and Latino representation? Speaker 2: 01:41 So voter registration, including in San Diego County tends to skew older and it tends to skew white. So that leaves out a lot of people and not just black and Latinos, but also even, you know, some younger white people and Asians. So what these letters show, they did an analysis of court reports that have come out every year that track the representation in the master jury wheel. And they found that between 1999 and 2019, you know, only pulling from voter rolls resulted in only 62.2% of expected African-American citizen representation in the districts jury. Now Speaker 1: 02:21 Method of selecting the jury pool different from one federal district court to another. Speaker 2: 02:27 Yes. So something that I learned in the story, and I think a lot of people don't know is that local court jurisdictions actually have a lot of say in how they form their master jury wheel, which is like the big wide pool of potential jurors that they select who gets summons from. And according to these letters, they did an analysis of the other federal district courts in California. And the Southern district of California was the only court that was only using voter. All of the other federal district courts were at least using DMV records to supplement that. Speaker 1: 03:04 So according to these criticisms in these letters that were sent to the federal district court here in San Diego, the main problem, hampering diversity on federal juries, isn't due to what we might think of as strikes made by lawyers during jury selection, but to who's in the jury pool itself. Is that right? Speaker 2: 03:23 Well, I think all of these experts think that those strikes are problematic as well. Um, but their point was sort of that a lot more attention is given to the strikes and less attention is given to the fact that there are skewed numbers of people coming into that jury selection process to eat before you even get to the strike process. So the people who are getting summons, the people who are arriving at the courthouse to potentially be selected, those groups are also not representative of the actual community. And if that's not representative, then you can't even, you know, get to the next phase. Um, and have it be potentially fair. How long have you Speaker 1: 04:00 Critics here been concerned about the lack of diversity on federal jury? Speaker 2: 04:05 So I think it's been an issue for quite a while, um, especially for defense attorneys and community organizations that represent some of the groups that often end up, um, as defendants in these criminal proceedings. But I know back in 2017, several of these same organizations sent letters once again to the Southern district of California, basically requesting that they start adding DMV roles and other records to supplement their master jury wheel list. In addition to just using voter registration lists. So that's been a discussion for at least a couple of years now, Speaker 1: 04:41 Former San Diego County, public defender, Genevieve Jones, right, submitted her criticism to the Southern district with a commentary on why a diverse jury pool is essential. What did she have to say? Speaker 2: 04:54 Genovia basically was saying that the jury pool really needs to represent the community, especially given who is in these proceedings in court. You know, people who do not have similar backgrounds to the defendants will have a different perspective on, you know, maybe why they committed the crime or, you know, their interactions with the police officer or things like that. That someone who is maybe white and wealthier would have a different outlook on because they've had completely different experiences with police. They, you know, maybe haven't had to have ends meet. So, you know, she felt that it was really important in order to commit to racial equality and justice and inclusion that the jury's also be representative of the community. Speaker 1: 05:39 Has there been any reaction at all from the federal district about these criticisms? Speaker 2: 05:45 Uh, I reached out to the chief judge, um, and the Southern district of California. And he declined to comment for this story. He said that since the plan is sort of still in the public comment, they don't feel comfortable discussing it yet because no final decision has been made on the plan. Speaker 1: 06:03 Speaking with voice of San Diego reporter Maya Sheree, Christian Maya. Thanks Speaker 2: 06:06 A lot. Thanks so much for having me.

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The local federal court’s plan for how it will select potential jurors is drawing fire for what many critics believe is an insufficient attempt to increase jury diversity, an issue that has persisted for decades.
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