All-white jury

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An all-white jury is an American situation where a jury in a criminal trial or grand jury investigation is composed only of white people. Often, the implication of invoking such a makeup is that the deliberations may not be fair and unbiased.[1] Racial discrimination in jury selection has a long history in the United States.[2]

Current precedent and legal challenges[edit]

Under the legal standard set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky, the striking of a juror on account of race denies a defendant equal protection under the constitution. However the court held that a defendant is not entitled to a jury containing or lacking members of any particular race, and the striking of jurors for race-neutral reasons is permissible. This standard has been extended to civil trials in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Company and on the basis of gender in J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B.


Following the Civil War, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution had abolished slavery and guaranteed basic civil rights to African-Americans; the Civil Rights Act of 1875 extended this to "public accommodation" and jury selection, including the establishment of criminal penalties for court officers who interfered:[3]

Sec 4. That no citizen possessing all other qualification which are or may be prescribed by law shall be disqualified for service as grand or petit juror in any court of the United States, or of any State, on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude; and any officer or other person charged with any duty in the selection or summoning of jurors who shall exclude or fail to summon any citizen for the cause aforesaid shall, on conviction thereof, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and be fined not more than five thousand dollars.[4]

The United States Supreme Court subsequently ruled inconsistently in two 1880 cases before it. In Strauder v. West Virginia, the court held that an all-white jury violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment; yet in Virginia v. Rives, the court denied an appeal on similar grounds, noting that an all-white jury was not in itself proof that a defendant's rights had been violated. Effectively, this nullified Strauder, permitting a segregated legal system where whites could be tried by their peers, but blacks could be denied the same privilege.

In 1883, the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was overturned entirely by an 8-1 majority on the Supreme Court. In 1896, the landmark Plessy v. Ferguson decision enshrined the unofficial civil code termed Jim Crow, ranging from separate but equal accommodation to voter disenfranchisement and jury exclusion; blacks were thus denied access to the public, political, and judicial spheres.[3]

The 1930s brought the Scottsboro Boys case, where nine black youths were accused of raping two white women, one of whom later recanted her testimony. Eight of the defendants were sentenced to death (although none would be executed). Defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz showed the Alabama Supreme Court that blacks had been kept off jury rolls, and that names of blacks had been added to the rolls after the trial to conceal this fact.[5] The appeals in the case ultimately led to two landmark Supreme Court decisions. In Powell v. Alabama, the Court ruled that criminal defendants are entitled to effective counsel, and in Norris v. Alabama, that blacks may not be excluded systematically from jury service.[6]

Despite Norris, the problem of exclusion of blacks from juries did not disappear. In 1985, the Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky addressed a situation where a prosecutor had used his peremptory challenges to strike all four blacks from a jury and obtained a conviction against the black defendant. Defendant was not able to demonstrate that the state's court system systematically excluded blacks from juries but nonetheless raised due process and equal protection arguments in his particular case. In Batson, the court ruled that the defendant could make a prima facie case for purposeful racial discrimination in jury selection by relying on the record and that a State denies a black defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposely excluded.[7]

Despite Batson, the problem of exclusion of blacks from juries has not disappeared. As the Mississippi Supreme Court noted in reversing a 2004 conviction in one case where prosecutors used all 15 of their peremptory strikes on black jurors: "racially motivated jury selection is still prevalent 20 years after Batson."[8]

Notable cases[edit]

Convictions of minority defendants[edit]

  • Lynching of Ed Johnson in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1906. Convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death for raping a white woman, Johnson appealed to the United States Supreme Court challenging the racial composition of his jury. Johnson's execution was stayed by Justice John Marshall Harlan but Johnson was then lynched by a mob with the acquiescence of the local sheriff. A note left on his body informed the Court: "Come get your nigger now."[2]
  • Scottsboro Boys, group of African Americans wrongfully convicted for rape of a Caucasian woman and sentenced to death in 1931.[9]
  • George Stinney in South Carolina in 1944. Convicted by an all-white jury and executed by electric chair at age 14 despite no physical evidence.[10]
  • Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in Paterson, New Jersey in 1967 in his first trial, but was retried and reconvicted in 1976 by a jury that included African Americans.[11]
  • Clarence Brandley, convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death for the murder of a white high school student;[12] later exonerated.
  • Mychal Bell, a member of the Jena Six, convicted of aggravated second-degree battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated second-degree battery in Jena, Louisiana in 2007.[13]

Acquittals of white defendants[edit]

Convictions of white defendants[edit]

  • Eighteen defendants were indicted for the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi in United States v. Price. Seven defendants, including a deputy sheriff, were found guilty on civil rights charges, making this trial the first time an all-white jury in Mississippi convicted a white official in a civil rights killing.[20]
  • In a civil suit brought against the United Klans of America for the murder of Michael Donald, an all-white jury determined that rather than hold the three murderers responsible, that the murder was instigated by the UKA and therefore the entire group was at fault. The group was sued for $7 million for wrongful death. The UKA, which was bankrupted by the lawsuit and could not pay, had to settle by signing over the deed to their national headquarters to the Donald family.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Dobbs, David. "The all-white jury v the diverse: Evidence, for a change.". Scientific American. Retrieved 2007-08-21. In the long, messy experiment that is the trial by jury, one of the most volatile and closely attended variables in the United States is a jury's racial make-up. Depending on context, the phrases "all-white jury" or "all-black jury" can raise a host of expectations -- among them, as MIT social neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe notes below, the expectation that deliberations may be less than fair. The 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson of murder charges by a jury of nine blacks, one Hispanic, and one white, for instance, was widely seen as skewed by race, as was the 1992 acquittal by a mostly white jury of the police officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King the year before. 
  2. ^ a b Equal Justice Initiative (June 2010). "Illegal Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection: A Continuing Legacy". Equal Justice Initiative. p. 10. Archived from the original on 5 June 2010. Retrieved 2010-06-11. 
  3. ^ a b Tsahai Tafari. "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow: A National Struggle: Important Supreme Court cases in the battle for civil rights". PBS. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  4. ^ "Civil Rights Act of 1875, 18 Stat. Part III, p. 335 (Act of Mar. 1, 1875).". The University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Archived from the original on 2007-05-20. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  5. ^ "Scottsboro Timeline". The American Experience. PBS. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  6. ^ "Scottsboro Trials Collection, 1931-1937". Cornell University Library. Retrieved 2013-05-28. 
  7. ^ Browne-Marshall, Gloria (2007). Race, law, and American society : 1607 to present. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. ISBN 978-0-415-95294-1. Retrieved 2009-08-31. 
  8. ^ Dewan, Shaila (2010-06-02). "Study Finds Blacks Blocked From Southern Juries". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-06-02. 
  9. ^ Alschuler, Albert W. (February 1995). "Racial Quotas and the Jury". Duke Law Journal (Duke University School of Law) 44 (4): 704. doi:10.2307/1372922. JSTOR 1372922. 
  10. ^ Jones, Mark R. South Carolina Killers: Crimes of Passion. The History Press, 2007. ISBN 1-59629-395-0. (Chapter Five: "Too Young to Die. The Execution of George Stinney, Jr. (1944).) pp. 38-42.
  11. ^ Parisi, Albert J. (February 5, 1984). "New Jersey Journal". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-08-21. The names Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter and John Artis still evoke strong feelings among black residents in Paterson. The two black men were arrested in 1966 for the murder of three whites in a local bar. Both Mr. Carter, a former boxer and contender for the world middleweight championship, and Mr. Artis were later convicted by an all-white jury. 
  12. ^ Applebome, Peter (October 4, 1987). "The Truth is Also on Trial in a Texas Death Row Case". New York Times. Mr. Brandley, the only black among five school janitors, was soon charged with the crime. His first trial ended in a mistrial when an all-white jury voted, 11-1, in favor of a conviction. A second all-white jury found him guilty and sentenced him to death. 
  13. ^ "Jena And The Son Of Jim Crow". The Nation. Retrieved 2007-08-21. Over the past year the small town of Jena, Louisiana, has vividly established the genealogical link between the two generations of Jim Crow. Paradoxically it has taken the symbolism of the old -- complete with nooses and all-white juries -- for the nation to engage with the substance of the new: the racial inequalities in America's penal and judicial systems. 
  14. ^ "The Trial of J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant". American Experience. Retrieved 2007-08-21. For his closing summation, defense attorney Sidney Carlton told the all-white, all-male jury that if they didn't free Milam and Bryant: "Your ancestors will turn over in their grave, and I'm sure every last Anglo-Saxon one of you has the courage to free these men." After deliberating for only 67 minutes, the jury returned a verdict: not guilty. Reporters said they overheard laughing inside the jury room. One juror later said: "We wouldn't have taken so long if we hadn't stopped to drink pop." 
  15. ^ Stout, David (January 23, 2001). "Byron De La Beckwith Dies; Killer of Medgar Evers Was 80". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-30. 
  16. ^ University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries
  17. ^ National Constitution Center
  18. ^ Darryl Fears (2005-03-06). "Seeking Closure on 'Greensboro Massacre'". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  19. ^ "Jury in McDuffie case picked". Palm Beach Post. 1980-04-16. Retrieved 2013-07-18. 
  20. ^ Campbell Robertson (September 17, 2012). "Last Chapter for a Court With a Place in History". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-24. 
  21. ^ Roger Ebert (November 11, 2001). "To Kill a Mockingbird". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  22. ^ Stewart Home (5 January 2006). "'Rated X by an All-White Jury'". Mute Magazine. Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  23. ^ "How to Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)". Retrieved 2007-09-25. 
  24. ^ A.H. Weiler. "Twelve Angry Men (1957)". New York Times (US). Retrieved 2013-05-28.