SACRAMENTO COUNTY — A California defense attorney is calling Sacramento County’s process of selecting a potential jury pool into question, suggesting it may be practicing racial discrimination.
Defense attorney Claire White is representing a black client accused of a robbery outside a Sacramento-area Denny’s.
“My client has an innocence claim. We are fighting this at trial,” White told FOX40.
On one of her first days in court, while preparing to select potential jurors, White said she noticed something was off about the group that was brought in.
“We started with 60 with the hopes of getting 12, plus an alternate or two. And upon seeing the 60 people that were called forward, there were only two people who were apparently African American,” White said.
The latest census shows 10.9% of the population of Sacramento County is black.
White said two in 60 is not a fair cross section of the black community, calling it a potential violation of both the U.S. and state constitutions.
“It’s a significant constitutional right and I think anyone who would be on trial would feel that way,” said attorney Mark Reichel.
Reichel said it is a problem he has also noticed in Sacramento County’s jury pools.
“For the longest time, for whatever practice has been in place, Sacramento has been having jury pools that don’t seem to represent a fair cross section of the community,” he told FOX40.
Sacramento County uses Department of Motor Vehicle and voter registration databases to send out summonses for jury service.
McGeorge School of Law professor John Sims said that can generate a group of potential jurors that does not always reflect a county’s true demographic.
Also, there are other ways the county can find minority citizens.
“The system is not being run or shouldn’t be run for the convenience of the jury commissioners,” Sims said. “It’s easier to locate some people than it is to locate other people but that doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate way to do it.”
After her objections, White said the judge dismissed that jury pool.
In the meantime, she has formerly requested race demographics and the policies and procedures for juror selection in Sacramento County from the jury commissioner.
“His response to me was that that response would have to go through legal council and he asked for it in writing, which I immediately provided. And now we wait,” White said.
However, she said she has serious doubts her client will get a fair trial.
“Every person, regardless of their race, is guaranteed a fair cross section of the jury,” White said. “But that becomes especially noteworthy and apparent when the person who’s charged themselves is a member of the group who fails to be represented.”
The Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office responded to White’s claims with the following statement from Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Grippi:
The challenge of an entire jury panel is an objection to the process by which jurors are selected for jury service in a given county rather than how individual jurors are chosen by the attorneys in any particular case. That process is administered by the court and the jury commissioner, not the District Attorney.
We wholeheartedly support the legal requirement that an impartial jury be selected from a representative cross section of the community and are confident that the process in Sacramento County passes constitutional muster.
The defense was given leave by the court to file a motion in objection to the process. Once we receive that motion, we will respond accordingly.