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May 4, 2012

Race and Justice News

Research: Historic Ruling in North Carolina Racial Justice Act Case

Research: Blacks Underrepresented on Detroit Juries

Collateral Consequences: Employers may not Deny Employment Based on a Conviction

Legislation: Federal "End Racial Profiling Act" Introduced

Legislation: CT Senate Passes Bill Strengthening State’s Racial Profiling Law

Legislation: Missouri Passes Bill Reducing Disparity Between Sentences for Crack Cocaine and Powdered Cocaine

Juvenile Justice: Debate Over Racial Disparities in Memphis Juvenile Justice


Historic Ruling in North Carolina Racial Justice Act Case

In the first test of North Carolina’s 2009 Racial Justice Act, a Superior Court judge ruled that race played a "persistent, pervasive and distorting role" in jury selection. North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act allows death-row inmates and capital murder defendants to challenge their sentences or prosecutors’ decisions to pursue the death penalty using statistics and other evidence of racial bias. The test case involved Marcus Robinson who was sentenced to death 18 years ago. Robinson’s death sentence was reduced to life in prison without the possibility of parole based on the finding that there is racial bias in jury selection. The decision in Robinson’s case is expected to be appealed. Similar Racial Justice Bills are pending in Committee in both Pennsylvania and Missouri.


Blacks Underrepresented on Detroit Juries

Despite African Americans representing about 21% of the area covered by the U.S. District Court in Eastern Michigan, they account for only 11% of the qualified federal jury pool in the system. Judges in the district are also concerned not enough Hispanics, Arab Americans or Asian Americans are sitting on juries. According to The Detroit News, Court officials believe several factors are contributing to the problem: jury questionnaires in some predominantly minority areas come back as undeliverable or not at all, and no shows.

U.S. District Judge David Lawson ordered five people to appear in court to explain why they failed to show for jury duty. Reasons included forgetting, child care problems, and not receiving the jury questionnaire from a relative. One individual, who failed to show twice, was ordered to pay a $100 fine and serve 20 hours of community service. His response to reporters was, "They're trippin' over jury duty. They wouldn't have wanted me anyway. I have two felonies.”


Employers may not Deny Employment Based on a Conviction

The Huffington Post reports that the EEOC affirmed that under Title VII of the civil rights laws, employers may not deny employment based on a conviction except when the offense is job-related. It is illegal for employers to ban all applicants with criminal records, but these blanket no-hire policies persist, as documented in a report that the National Employment Law Project released last year. African Americans and Latinos, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and face high rates of unemployment, are particularly hard-hit by these unfair and illegal no-hire policies.

The updated EEOC guidelines released last week build on our nation's longstanding recognition of the "disparate impact" that criminal background checks have on workers of color, who are protected against employment discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Federal "End Racial Profiling Act" Introduced

Legislation sponsored by Senator Ben Cardin and Representative John Conyers, The End Racial Profiling Act (SB1670) would prohibit State and local law enforcement officials from using race as a factor in criminal investigations, would mandate training and provide grants on racial-profiling issues and data collection by local and State law enforcement.

Most of the experts who testified at an April Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the data, emotions, rationale and solutions surrounding racial profiling agreed that targeting potential suspects on the basis of race, national origin or religion “is just shoddy police work.” Police Chief Ronald Davis, East Palo Alto, California, testified that “we recognize that the more people of color, especially young men, are profiled and unfairly incarcerated, the more likely it is that their communities will lose trust and confidence in the criminal-justice system." On the other hand, Frank Gale, national second vice president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, strongly opposed the End Racial Profiling Act, arguing that racial profiling isn't even a real problem.


CT Senate Passes Bill Strengthening State’s Racial Profiling Law

The Connecticut state Senate passed a bill strengthening the state’s existing racial profiling law, which some legislators say is not being followed by police. Only 27 of the 92 local police departments are in compliance with the law, according to Senate Democrats. The president of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, Douglas Fuchs of Redding, disagrees, adding that racial profiling data does not “accurately portray how Connecticut law enforcement across the state conducts business.” The chamber voted 31 to 3 in favor of the profiling bill.


Missouri Passes Bill Reducing Disparity Between Sentences for Crack Cocaine and Powdered Cocaine

The Missouri House passed a bill that would reduce the disparity between sentences for crack cocaine and powder cocaine from 75:1 to 5:1. It remains unclear if the bill will pass in the Senate. It is part of a larger bill that deals with a variety of disparate issues including the cost of court transcripts, foster care licensure, and political appointments.


Debate Over Racial Disparities in Memphis Juvenile Justice

Shelby County Juvenile Court officials in Memphis clashed with parents and community leaders questioning them about racial disparities, reports The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Youth advocates from Nashville, with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, organized the information session to discuss a new Memphis-based project to reduce the number of minorities brought to court. Residents instead wanted to discuss a report by the U.S. Department of Justice, which cited a pattern of rights violations and racial discrimination in the local juvenile justice system. Dwight Montgomery, head of the Memphis chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said his efforts to keep youths out of gangs and other trouble have been stymied by a lack of response by police and court officials.

John Hall, head of both the statewide and Shelby County task forces, cited improvements in the local system. The Shelby County Juvenile Detention Center, once brimming with a population that required extra cots, is now typically less than half full. He and the state youth commission called the meeting to explain that Memphis has been chosen for a new project by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation has gained a national reputation for promoting programs that provide alternatives to lockup for juveniles.

Issue Area(s): Sentencing Policy, Racial Disparity, Drug Policy, Collateral Consequences, Crack Reform, Juvenile Justice