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Southern California Voices / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY

Gripe : More Minority Jurors Needed

March 29, 1993|CAROLE TELFER; Attorney, Norwalk

I am a criminal defense attorney in Norwalk Superior Court. Here in Norwalk, the court handles all felony cases from cities in Los Angeles County's Southeast District, including Whittier, Bellflower, Downey, South Gate.

We also handle cases from the Firestone District in South-Central Los Angeles. This is where the majority of our black defendants reside. The majority of potential black jurors in my district also comes from the Firestone area. Felony trials of defendants from the Firestone area are also held in Norwalk, even though in some of those cases the arraignments and preliminary hearings are held in the traffic court downtown. The jurors from the Firestone area, however, are sent to the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles because it is closer to their homes than the Norwalk court.

Consequently, the Norwalk court gets very few black jurors. Prosecutors often reject jurors from panels on cases involving black defendants. Although case law prohibits them from excluding certain jurors on race alone, it is hard to show a pattern of exclusion when there are only one or two blacks on a prospective jury panel.

Although the jury commissioner's office says that it randomly selects available jurors for a particular case, my personal observation is that we usually get zero to one black potential jurors on cases with black defendants, and three to five black potential jurors for cases with white clients. I believe it happens too often to be a coincidence. Because of this, some defense attorneys who are sensitive to the scarcity of black jurors for cases involving black defendants will excuse them from cases involving white clients in an effort to make them available for cases involving black clients.

Pressure should be put on the jury commissioner's office and letters should be written to government representatives to correct any possible discrimination.

I would like to see more black jurors sent from the Firestone District to Norwalk, or, better yet, that black defendants have their trials handled downtown, where there are many more jurors of color available.

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