Cole County public defender claims juries racially unequal

7 months 3 weeks 2 days ago Thursday, June 29 2017 Jun 29, 2017 Thursday, June 29, 2017 5:31:00 PM CDT June 29, 2017 in News
By: Finley Walker, KOMU 8 Reporter
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JEFFERSON CITY - Cole County's District Defender says the county intentionally excludes African-American jurors from the jury selection process.

District Defender Justin Carver recently sent a public letter to the prosecuting attorney's office after another case was thrown out for the same reason.

The case in question, State of Missouri v. Mosely, was thrown out because the defendant's counsel objected when the prosecuting attorney removed a black woman from the jury. The prosecuting attorney explained the woman was removed because of her "status."

Attorney Andrew Sartorius was an assistant public defender for Mosely during the 2016 trial. He said when there is an objection about removing someone from the jury, the opposition must give a reason that is "race and gender-neutral."

"In this case, the race-neutral reason [Richardson] gave was that one of the jurors stated that she was African-American and because of her status, [she] understood what Lawrence [the defendant] was going through," Sartorius said. "The Court of Appeals ultimately held that that is not a race-neutral reason."

Carver's letter outlined five different cases where the prosecuting attorney excused African-American jurors for certain things, but didn't remove other jurors for the same or similar reasons.

"I've only been in this public defender office for two and a half years. In the last two years, my office has tried 13 trials with the Cole County Prosecutor's Office," Carver said. "Of those 13, we had two with African-American representation on the jury panel."

The United States Census Bureau said 11.2 percent of the Cole County population is African-American, but Carver said African-American representation in the Cole County juries he's worked with is significantly below that.

"We tell them in court, 'look, this isn't right.' And consistently, it's excuse after excuse. And you know, the thing about implicit bias is a lot of time the person isn't even aware that they're doing it," Carver said. "And, it's really fallen on deaf ears, and it could well be that they just aren't aware of it."

Both Carver and Sartorius said the most frustrating thing is how inaccurately representing race on a jury can impact the defendant.

"Clients are often convinced that there's no way that they can receive a fair trial when one by one, the people who they can identify with are asked to leave," Sartorius said.

KOMU reached out to the prosecuting attorney's office, but he was unavailable for an interview.

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