Filed - November 19, 2015
Caddo Parish, Louisiana has a long history of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. One of the main components of this institutionalized injustice is the custom, policy and usage of the District Attorney’s Office to exercise peremptory challenges against African-American citizens because of their race, in order to empanel criminal trial juries that are predominantly white.
The MacArthur Justice Center filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of Black citizens of Caddo Parish who either had been barred from jury service by peremptory challenges in the year before the suit, or face future discrimination. We are seeking damages from the District Attorney’s Office for violating the rights of these citizens and an injunction prohibiting future discrimination.
Because of the importance of peremptory challenges in the criminal justice system, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry was allowed to join the case on the side of the District Attorney. Both the District Attorney and the Attorney General have moved to dismiss the case. Those motions have been argued; we are waiting for rulings from District Judge Dee Drell in Alexandria.
Caddo Parish prosecutors struck African-American citizens of Caddo Parish from jury service at 5x the rate of jurors who were not African-American.
Peremptory challenges allow each side in a lawsuit to “strike” potential jurors even if there is no “cause” to challenge their eligibility on grounds of bias or inability to follow the law. Attorneys need not have a specific reason for exercising a peremptory challenge, but where the challenge is based, in whole or in part, on grounds of race, gender, or ethnic origin, the challenge violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause.
A review of ten years’ worth of criminal trials shows that, when presented with an otherwise qualified black juror, the District Attorney’s Office exercised its discretion to peremptorily strike that juror 46% of the time. By comparison, when presented with an otherwise qualified juror who was not black, the Office exercised its discretion to peremptorily strike the juror only 15% of the time. Over a ten-year period, this pattern of peremptory strikes shows that the District Attorney struck African-American citizens of Caddo Parish from jury service at three times the rate he struck jurors who were not African-American. When controlled for variables, the data shows that Caddo Parish prosecutors struck African-American citizens of Caddo Parish from jury service at five times the rate of jurors who were not African-American.