Pretrial Jury Selection Questionnaire in George Floyd Murder Case – A Model for Discerning Bias?

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Pretrial Jury Selection Questionnaire in George Floyd Murder Case – A Model for Discerning Bias?

Insider Intelligencea digital research firm, published the contents of a 14-page questionnaire being used to screen potential jurors in the homicide trial (expected to begin in March) of Minnesota police officers charged in the killing of George Floyd.  It asks summoned citizens about their attitudes and possible experiences related to the Black Lives Matter movement, protests over police brutality, and police/community relations.  There is also a section asking the responder to rank a list of statements on a scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." Some of those statements are:

  • Discrimination is not as bad as the media makes it out to be.
  • I support defunding the Minneapolis Police Department.
  • Because law enforcement officers have such dangerous jobs, it is not right to second guess decisions they make while on duty.
  • Local police departments try to cover up excessive force rather than correct it.
  • People today do not give our law enforcement officers the respect they deserve.

In contrast, the North Carolina Supreme Court recently overturned a conviction based on a trial court’s failure to authorize defense counsel questioning of prospective jurors regarding racial bias against a Black defendant accused of shooting at police officers.  And a Colorado appellate panel threw out a conviction where the trial judge not only prohibited defense counsel from asking a proper question, but also refused counsel’s request to approach the bench and discuss how the question could address case-relevant topics in a permissible manner.

New Jersey Governor Proposes a Commission Study of Racial Bias in Jury Selection

The Garden State may soon the growing list of states that are reviewing racial bias in the criminal justice system.  Governor Phil Murphy was joined by two key legislators in proposing the New Jersey Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission next undertake to look for ways to improve policing, jury selection, and access to defense lawyers. “In order to more effectively address the undeniable presence of racial bias in our current criminal justice system, we must more fully understand the nature and extent of this problem,” Murphy said in a joint statement with two lawmakers and the leader of the commission.

NACDL Offers Webinar on Preserving the 6th Amendment During COVID-19

The Jur-E Bulletin has reported on various efforts across the country to protect public health and safety while also protecting core constitutional rights and the adversarial system.  The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers recently hosted a webinar addressing 6th Amendment issues raised by virtual or hybrid jury trials. Moderated by Professor Andrea Roth (UC Berkeley Law), panelists Sherry Boston (District Attorney, DeKalb County, Georgia), Martín Sabelli (Law Offices of Martín Sabelli, San Francisco, California), and Circuit Court Judge Annie O’Connell (Louisville, Kentucky) discussed the legal and practical definitions of what it means to confront a witness, what makes a trial public, and what is needed to ensure an accused is receiving the effective assistance of counsel.

Texas County to Use Church for Jury Selection

Austin County will be using Christian City Fellowship as an auxiliary branch courthouse for the purposes of conducting socially distant jury selections for district court and county court trials.

Chicago Courts Conduct Juror Survey on Willingness and Readiness to Serve During Pandemic

Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans recently initiated a survey of citizens to determine their willingness and ability to perform jury service remotely and to compare this to the public’s willingness and ability to perform in-person jury service.  Michael Pressman at the NYU Civil Jury Project wrote an informative summary of the survey results thus far.  For example, with respect to citizen capacity to participate remotely in a trial, Mr. Pressman writes:

Of the 2,357 individuals who expressed either a willingness to do or a preference for doing remote jury service, the following describes their responses to the survey questions:

  • 1,909 (81%) have used Zoom, Skype, or similar internet videoconferencing software.
  • 2,184 (93%) have access to an internet connection that will allow them to participate by videoconference.
  • 2,210 (94%) have access to a computer, smart phone, or internet capable device, such as a tablet, that will allow       them to participate by videoconference.
  • 2,048 (87%) have a web camera, speakers, and microphone connected to or integrated into a computer device.
  • 1,999 (85%) have a location where they could participate by videoconference without being distracted or interrupted.

The text of the survey instrument is available here.