Judge Dismisses Jury That Questioned Lack of Diversity

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on April 28, 2016 12:58 PM

The two men on trial were African American -- but no member of their jury was, after the prosecution had dismissed all of the black, potential jurors in voir dire. And while that's typically something the defendants and their attorneys might take issue with, a recent Nashville jury raised objections over the lack of diversity as well.

At the beginning of a recent criminal trial in Nashville, one juror complained to the judge that he did not think it was fair for two black defendants to be tried by a jury without any black members, according to the Tennessean. The result: Criminal Court Judge Cheryl Blackburn sent the whole jury packing.

Jurors Concerned Over Lack of Diversity

Terance Bradley and Hurley Brown were facing aggravated assault charges in Nashville criminal court, stemming from a fight in July, 2014. When the jury pool was evaluated, prosecutors dismissed all black potential jurors, giving a variety of race-neutral reasons.

And while those dismissals were likely permissible, they raised concerns among the remaining jurors, a group that included minorities but no African Americans. At lunch, the jurors discussed the jury makeup and the concerns they had with the lack of diversity.

That discussion led to the juror's comment to the judge, which lead to the entire jury's dismissal.

"The judge specifically instructed the jury not to begin discussions regarding the case before hearing all the proof and arguments," Assistant District Attorney General Megan King said in a statement. "Judge Blackburn felt that the jury's discussions regarding the racial composition of the jury violated her instructions.

The defendants had already been in custody for 18 months before the trial, the Tennessean explains, and now face even more delay before trial. Their family, however, is pleased with the outcome. "There was an angel in the courtroom that day," Brown's mother said of the objecting juror. "Good for him for speaking up."

Dismissed Jury, Suspended Judge

It's not just the occasional juror who can raise diversity concerns in the courtroom -- and face consequences for them. Kentucky Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens was suspended this month pending a formal investigation by the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission. The proceedings were begun, in part, because Judge Stevens twice dismissed a jury that he did not think was sufficiently diverse.

"There is not a single African-American on this jury and (the defendant) is an African-American man," Judge Stevens said at the time. "I cannot in good conscience go forward with this jury."

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