April 2, 2019

Four African Americans Get Go-Ahead for Lawsuit Challenging Race-Based Jury Selection in Caddo Parish

ALEXANDRIA, LA – A federal judge has issued an historic ruling permitting four African Americans to pursue a damages lawsuit alleging they were blocked from serving on a jury in Caddo Parish due to their race.

Judge Dee D. Drell, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, released the order Monday in a case brought against the District Attorney’s Office in Caddo Parish. The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the District Attorney’s Office has a practice of exercising peremptory challenges against Black citizens to exclude them from jury selection in order to empanel criminal trial juries that are predominantly white. Each of the four plaintiffs was struck from jury panels as a result of this practice. “

Although the legal principles undergirding this lawsuit have been established for decades, this is the first case in which Black prospective jurors have successfully pled a civil rights claim for damages for prosecutorial jury discrimination,” said Jim Craig, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center office in Louisiana. “This is a huge step forward in vindicating the right of Black citizens, and of all eligible jurors in the United States, to be considered for criminal jury service regardless of their race.”

Judge Drell’s ruling dismissed claims of other plaintiffs, also Black citizens eligible to be summoned for jury service in Caddo Parish, for a declaratory judgment that the District Attorney’s practice is unconstitutional and forbidding its use in future cases. “We are examining the Court’s ruling to determine how to proceed,” Craig said. “We believe that declaratory judgments and permanent injunctions are necessary tools to eliminate the blight of jury discrimination in the criminal justice system in Louisiana and the rest of the U.S.”

MacArthur Justice Center attorney Emily Washington, co-counsel for plaintiffs, explained the data underlying the case. “Taking into account a series of variables, in a study of 332 criminal cases for which records were available from 2003 through 2012, Caddo Parish prosecutors struck Black citizens from criminal trial juries between three to five times more often than prospective jurors who were not Black,” Washington said. “The results of this extensive review of trials excludes the possibility that non-racial reasons account for the prosecutors’ use of peremptory challenges.”

The ruling moves the lawsuit into discovery. The case is Pipkins v. Stewart, 5:15-cv-02722-DDD-HHH.