A study released last week found that prosecutors in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish strike African Americans from jury service at three times the rate they strike non-African Americans, leading to the significant underrepresentation of African Americans on juries.
Researchers examined data from more than 300 felony trials prosecuted by the Caddo Parish District Attorney’s office between 2003 and 2012. They found that some individual prosecutors struck Black prospective jurors at rates of 4.5 and 5 times the rate they struck those who are not Black. Overall, Caddo Parish prosecutors used peremptory strikes to exclude 46 percent of qualified Black jurors, but struck only 15 percent of jurors who were not Black.
The results are consistent with the evidence of ongoing racial discrimination in jury selection that EJI uncovered across the South. Hundreds of people of color called for jury service have been illegally excluded from juries after prosecutors asserted pretextual reasons to justify their removal, such as because they appeared to have “low intelligence,” wore eyeglasses, walked in a certain way, dyed their hair, and countless other reasons that the courts have rubber-stamped as “race-neutral.”
The illegal racial discrimination in jury selection is especially acute in serious criminal cases and capital cases. For example, EJI found that, from 2006 to 2010, prosecutors in Houston County, Alabama, used peremptory strikes to exclude 82 percent of qualified Black jurors in death penalty cases. As a result, the jury in every death penalty case in Houston County over this period was all white or had only a single Black juror despite the fact that the county is nearly 25 percent African American, and Houston County had the highest per capita death sentencing rate in Alabama.
Similarly, Caddo Parish is 48 percent Black. But the typical 12-member criminal jury had fewer than four African American members, the study found, and the share of juries with two or fewer Black jurors was more than double what race-neutral jury selection would yield in Caddo, which has accounted for nearly half of Louisiana’s death sentences over the past five years. From 2010 to 2014, Caddo Parish sentenced more people to death per capita than any other county in the United States.
The study suggests that the history of racial injustice provides a context for the current discrimination in Caddo Parish. In 1898, Louisiana rewrote its constitution to completely disenfranchise African Americans and to allow majority jury verdicts so that a jury with at least ten non-Black members could return a verdict without regard to the votes of the Black jurors.
That majority-white juries in Caddo Parish today are condemning to death mostly Black defendants (83 percent of defendants in the study were Black) at record rates likewise evokes Caddo’s history as the lynching capital of Louisiana, with the second most victims of racial terror lynchings in the South.
Two Supreme Court justices recently questioned the constitutionality of the death penalty in part because of racial discrimination in its administration.