Former Oklahoma City Officer Daniel Holtzclaw is being charged with 36 counts of rape, sexual battery, indecent exposure and forcible oral sodomy following his attacks on 13 Black women (one of these women was a teenager at the time of the alleged attack). His case is being tried in front of an all-white jury, which only has four women.
According to prosecutors, Holtzclaw primarily targeted middle-aged Black women who he believed either had criminal records or may have been carrying contraband when he approached them. These victims would be less likely to report any crimes committed against them. This all changed when he assaulted a woman being referred to as J.L., who has no criminal record, in June. J.L. reported the crime, and police discovered that her report matched several other unsolved sex crimes by an officer who resembled Holtzclaw.
In August of 2014 Holtzclaw was arrested. His trial began last week.
Garland Pruitt, President of the Oklahoma City NAACP, said in a statement regarding the jury, “We’re very disappointed, very, very disappointed, that we don’t have any minorities on there.”
The jury does not represent the demographics of Oklahoma City. According to the 2010 Census, 15.1 percent of the city’s population is Black. Statistically speaking, this would mean at least one juror should be Black. Of the pool of 24 potential jurors three were Black men, and none of them made it to the final jury.
“We’re not saying justice can’t prevail but we can be suspicious of it being [run] in a manner,” Garland said.
Discrimination in jury selection is by no means a new issue and continues to persist today. According to a study by the Equal Justice Initiative, “Today, peremptory strikes are used to exclude African Americans and other racial minorities from jury service at high rates in many jurisdictions, particularly in the South. This phenomenon is especially prevalent in capital cases and other serious felony cases.”
In the 1985 case of Batson v. Kentucky (Batson was a Black man), the Supreme Court found that the prosecution peremptorily challenged all four potential Black jurors based solely on their race in his trial. According to the ruling, in order to reach such a conclusion:
The defendant first must show that he is a member of a cognizable racial group, and that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove from the venire members of the defendant’s race. The defendant may also rely on the fact that peremptory challenges constitute a jury selection practice that permits those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate. Finally, the defendant must show that such facts and any other relevant circumstances raise an inference that the prosecutor used peremptory challenges to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race. Once the defendant makes aprima facieshowing, the burden shifts to the State to come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors.
To prove without a doubt that racial bias is behind juror elimination is difficult, however, and other reasons for ruling out a potential juror can be given. Justice Thurgood Marshall, who served as the Supreme Court’s first Black justice, said regarding juror discrimination, “Any prosecutor can easily assert facially neutral reasons for striking a juror, and trial courts are ill equipped to second-guess those reasons.”
Various “neutral” reasons for eliminating Black jurors have included wearing glasses; appearing to have “low intelligence” (a Louisiana prosecutor once eliminated a Black juror and said the juror was “too stupid to live much less be on a jury”); being single, married, or separated; being too young or old; chewing gum; “look[ing] like a drug dealer”; and how they walked. In some cases, so-called neutral reasons have even mentioned race, such as living in majority-Black neighborhoods or having a relative who went to a historically Black college. In older cases, Black jurors have allegedly been eliminated to prevent having an all-Black jury.
The ruling in the Batson case apparently did not have an effect on Mississippi. In the 1995 case of Goggins v. State of Mississippi, just about a decade after the Batson ruling, a prosecutor admitted to eliminating two Black potential jurors because he was trained to during a jury selection course.
And such practices have evidently trickled over into the next decade. A 2003 study concluded that Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, prosecutors use peremptory strikes three times as often to eliminate Black jurors than white jurors despite the population being 27.2 percent Black. And from 2005 through 2009 in Houston County, Alabama, prosecutors have eliminated 80 percent of qualified Black jurors from death penalty cases, ensuring they do not have equal representation on juries when the 26.7 percent of the county is Black.
The reason the problem persists is due to the lack of consequences even if racial bias is proven or evident. In many states, the same prosecutors who are found to strike jurors based on race continue to remain in their positions, allowing them to make the same decisions in the future and simply provide new “neutral” reasons for eliminating jurors.