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The ongoing fight against racial discrimination in jury selection

January 19, 2022 – As all-white juries continue to dominate, what is being done around the nation to combat the lack of diversity?

An excellent article from the Washington Post sheds light on the persisting issues surrounding racial discrimination in juries across the nation. It explores the reasons why our juries remain so predominantly white, and discusses the ongoing efforts being made to eliminate racial bias in jury selection. Lila Silverstein, a WAP attorney, is at the forefront of these efforts.

An excerpt from the article:

In 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Batson v. Kentucky that the opposing attorney can object to a peremptory strike but has to show that the dismissal was an act of intentional racial discrimination. Advocates for increasing jury diversity say that bar has proven to be nearly impossible to clear. But in 2018, thanks to Byng and Silverstein’s advocacy, Washington became the first state to adopt rules aimed at eliminating not just intentional, but also implicit, bias in jury selection. […]


“Anecdotally, we are seeing that lawyers are being much more careful about exercising peremptory challenges to exclude jurors and that judges are sustaining objections to peremptory challenges much more frequently than they did before,” Silverstein said. “On the appellate level, there have been several cases over the last few years where the courts are reversing convictions where lawyers exercised inappropriate peremptory challenges,” she added, noting that in State v. Jefferson, the Washington Supreme Court reversed a murder conviction.


This has been a major shift in Washington, said Silverstein, who added that there had never been a reversal for racial discrimination in jury selection in the state before the new rule, despite the issue being raised more than 40 times since the federal Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky.


To learn more, please read: “Many juries in America remain mostly White, prompting states to take action to eliminate racial discrimination in their selection” by Emmanuel Felton (washingtonpost.com)

On Ahmaud Arbery, Charlottesville, and Racism in Jury Selection

December 21, 2021 – WAP attorney Lila Silverstein, known for her efforts on Batson reform, was recently interviewed for an article on systemic racial issues within jury selection.

The article, published by Truthout, provides timely and compelling insight into the ongoing racism within the jury selection process in light of recent events such as the murder of Ahmaud Arbery as well as the Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ civil trial.

An excerpt from the article:

Accusations of bias against police often figure heavily in excluding non-white jurors. Because of systemic racism throughout the U.S. criminal legal system, Black people and other people of color tend to have more unpleasant experiences with police. Because of these experiences, whichever side intends to call police to the stand tends to claim the juror of color in question cannot be impartial.


“It’s almost as if the system says, ‘Well, we get to discriminate against you again because you’ve been discriminated against in all these other areas of the system,’” says Lila Silverstein, a lawyer with the Washington Appellate Project, an organization that helps people who cannot afford legal representation.


To learn more, please read: “The Jury Selection Process Is Rigged in Favor of White Supremacy” by Laura Jedeed (truthout.org).

COVID-19: Statewide restrictions lifted as of June 30; new office policies for reopening

Under Governor Inslee’s Washington Ready plan, COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted statewide as of June 30. The Washington Appellate Project will now be transitioning to normal office hours – 9:00 AM to 5:00PM, Monday to Friday. In compliance with Inslee’s reopening guidelines, our office requires that face masks be worn unless the visitor is fully vaccinated or has a condition that prevents them from wearing a mask. Masks will remain available for all guests if needed.

The safety of our employees, clients and community while continuing to meet our obligations to our clients remains a top priority for our office.

The importance of racial diversity in juries

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

April 29, 2021 – A deeper look into jury racial composition shows the necessity of racial diversity in creating a fairer justice system.

Last week, we spoke about and shared an article on jury diversity and what is being done about it in Washington State.

This new, timely article from VOA examines the jury from State v. Derek Chauvin trial in particular and further emphasizes why the racial composition of a jury matters so much. The article references another important study conducted by psychology professor Sam Sommers from Tufts University, wherein he examined stereotyping, prejudice and cognitive bias in mock juries. This research revealed that diverse juries deliberated longer, were more thorough on their consideration of evidence and facts, and were less likely to presume that a defendant was guilty.

Other studies, according to Sommers, showed that all-white juries tend to be more punitive towards Black defendants than diverse juries and white jurors were more careful when working with diverse jurors. It seems to make sense that the sharing of perspectives between a diverse group of people would lead to a more thoughtful jury.

A diverse jury such as the one involved in the Chauvin trial is a step forward, but it is sadly still not the norm. As Washington Appellate Project attorney Lila Silverstein states in the article: “I was surprised to learn that this [Chauvin] jury was diverse, because usually that’s not the case in any state in this country. No state has really gotten it right. Juries are supposed to reflect their communities, and our founders thought this was a critical element of democracy, because the government should not get to decide who should be locked up in prison, or even who should prevail in a civil dispute. Ordinary citizens exercise that right.”

Our justice system still has a long way to go, but the tides are turning. With the research and hard work of individuals and groups across the nation, such as the Equal Justice Initiative as well as our very own creation of the Jury Diversity Task Force here in Washington state, a bright future for criminal justice reform seems to be just on the horizon.

For more information on this topic, please read this article: “Why a Jury’s Racial Composition Matters” by Dora Mekouar.


Improving jury diversity in Washington State

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

April 22, 2021 – Minor ethnicities are vastly underrepresented in jury pools across the nation, and Washington State is spearheading the efforts to address this longstanding problem.

Research shows that a diverse jury is essential to creating fairer trials – however, the US is struggling to bring racial and ethnic minorities into jury pools.

Courts across the states are now looking to Washington State in hopes of understanding why this is happening and what can be done about it.

Back in 2017, the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission (MJC) and Washington Appleseed co-hosted an annual Supreme Court Symposium, focused on jury diversity and utilizing research to create a plan of action. Washington Appellate Project attorney Lila Silverstein spoke at the symposium. “Studies show that racially diverse juries spend more time deliberating, make fewer errors, and result in fairer trials than non diverse juries, yet the Equal Justice Initiative has concluded that there is perhaps no arena of public life in which racial discrimination is more widespread, apparent and seemingly tolerated than in the selection of juries,” she states.

She explains why this is happening: “The problem begins before the courthouse doors even open, when members of marginalized communities stay home with their children, or report to their job sites, instead of reporting for jury duty. For some it’s because they never even received the summons. For others it’s prohibitively expensive to forgo that day’s wages or to pay for childcare. And for others it’s a mistaken belief that a prior conviction precludes participation.”

Indeed, there have been a few studies on juries done in Washington already for the past few years on juries and why so few minorities participate. On one report analyzing data based on a 2016 and 2017 study conducted by the Seattle University, associate professor Peter A. Collins and assistant professor Brooke Gialopsos wrote: “There are clear patterns across all courts included in the present study that indicate that marginalized groups, in particular women of color, experience significant hurdles to participate in the jury process. Populations who experience multiple oppressions, such as those who identify as LGBTQ+, gender, and persons of color experience even more obstacles to participate.”

Thanks to these researchers and the symposium, solutions were sure to follow.

The MJC was asked by Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst to explore the recommendations set forth at the symposium. MJC created the Jury Diversity Task Force whose objective is to “examine a range of policy proposals that might have the effect of increasing minority representation on Washington State juries, and make recommendations to MJC about which approaches, if any, to pursue.”

In their 2019 Interim Report, the task force outlined many recommendations. Below are their highest priority suggestions:

  • Expanding the jury source list beyond registered voters and driver’s license & state ID card holders and updating the list more frequently.
  • Increasing juror compensation and researching feasibility of tax credits or deductions for service.
  • Providing childcare for potential jurors.
  • Pursuing a statutory amendment to define the phrase “civil rights restored” in RCW 2.36.070 and creating an education campaign targeted to courts to update wording of
    their juror qualification questionnaires to clarify that individuals with felony convictions are allowed to serve on the jury (unless under DOC supervision).
  • Streamlining the jury summons and follow-up process.
  • Collecting jury demographic data.

Over time, these efforts are sure to alleviate the racial disparities within jury pools and help ensure that defendants are judged fairly and by a truly “representative cross-section” of the community.

For more information on this topic, please read this article: “Juries have a diversity problem. What’s being done to address it in Washington state?” by Alexis Krell.