New Study Finds Serious Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Alameda County Jury Pools

November 17, 2010 12:00 am

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San Francisco – The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU-NC) today released a study showing that despite the racial and ethnic diversity of Alameda County, jurors are being selected from pools with insufficient representation from communities of color. The disparities identified are striking: while African Americans represent approximately 18 percent of the eligible jury pool in the county, they comprised only 8% of the people who appeared for jury duty in 11 recent felony trials examined in the study.

“These disparities undermine the strength and the integrity of the entire justice system,” said ACLU-NC attorney and Racial Justice Policy Director Diana Tate Vermiere. “There is no satisfactory reason for not taking immediate action to correct this situation.”

Similarly, the study reports that Latinos represent approximately 12% of the eligible jury pool but comprised only 8% of the individuals appearing for jury service. This means that one-third of eligible Latino jurors are not appearing for service.

In recent months, the selection of a jury with no African Americans in the Johannes Mehserle trial has caused many to question the fairness of jury selection systems in California. The issue is a concern for any jury trial and raises questions about the fairness of our justice system.

The ACLU report, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Alameda County Jury Pools, identifies potential causes of significant, systemic under-representation of African Americans and Latinos in Alameda County’s jury pools.

The report also points out that Alameda County routinely summons many more jurors than it needs, at unnecessary expense.

The report recommends simple steps to help resolve the disparities. These include updating the jury pool computer program used by the courts, instituting a failure to appear program to increase the numbers of potential jurors who respond to summons, and expanding the sources from which potential jurors are selected. Currently, the courts use only two sources: DMV records and registered voter lists.

A number of local bar associations, including associations representing ethnic minorities and women, joined with the ACLU-NC in signing a letter accompanying the report to Presiding Judge Rolefson and Jury Commissioner Sweeten of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland. Judge Rolefson and Commissioner Sweeten have the authority to initiate and oversee changes to improve the system. The ACLU intended for this report to provide a useful guide for such changes.

A copy of the study is available from the ACLU-NC homepage:

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