Jury service is, along with voting, one of the few ways that citizens participate directly in democracy. It gives ordinary people a voice in the criminal punishment system and is an established civil right. Studies show that diverse juries deliberate more thoroughly and are less likely to convict innocent people.
Yet, courts across the country have tried and failed to stamp out jury discrimination since the Civil Rights Movement made it possible for Black people to finally begin serving on juries in the South. Even Batson v. Kentucky, a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that explicitly outlawed the race-based exclusion of jurors, has failed to change the fact that Black citizens are systematically denied their right to jury service.
In recent years, CDPL has made the enforcement of Batson, in both captial and non-capital cases, a key part of our work. We helped expose North Carolina’s 30-year failure to enforce the law, and then pushed forward the first case in which a sentence was struck down because of discrimination against a juror of color. Most recently, the litigation of a Batson claim in the case of Henry White led to him being freed after 25 years in prison. We continue to litigate Batson claims in several other cases and to train attorneys around the state to challenge Batson violations in their own cases.