Today we joined the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law in an amcius brief before the Massachusetts Appeals Court. In this case, the sole Hispanic juror in the venire at trial was struck by the prosecution—in a case involving a Hispanic defendant—because the juror’s family member was incarcerated in another state. The proffered reason for the peremptory strike: the prosecutor was “just not comfortable based on the charges in this hearing.” The charges at issue in the trial? Intent to distribute Class B drugs. The family member’s case? Arrested and charged with murder in Wisconsin.
Our brief argues that allowing the strike to stand based on this common pretextual reason, in a state and country where Black and Hispanic people are over-policed and over-incarcerated, will reinforce and legitimize a method that can be used to disparately exclude Black and Hispanic citizens from juries. We urge the Massachusetts Appeals Court to follow the lead of states like Washington, California, and Connecticut and find that excluding jurors based on close connections with people who have personal experience in the criminal legal system is presumptively discriminatory and an unlawful basis for a peremptory strike.