Supreme Court rules defendant's right to impartial jury not violated

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Tuesday ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously in Berghuis v. Smith [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that a defendant's Sixth Amendment [text] right to a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community was not violated when the African-American representation on the jury was disproportionate to the community population. The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit applied the comparative-disparity test, which calculates the percentage of otherwise eligible jurors from a given group who are excluded from jury service, and held [opinion, PDF] that the defendant's right was violated. In reversing the decision below, the court declined to adopt an explicit standard. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote:

Each test is imperfect. Absolute disparity and comparative disparity measurements, courts have recognized, can be misleading when, as here, "members of the distinctive group comp[ose] [only] a small percentage of those eligible for jury service." And to our knowledge, "[n]o court ... has accepted [a standard deviation analysis] alone as determinative in Sixth Amendment challenges to jury selection systems."
Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion.

The defendant, Diapolis Smith, is an African-American convicted of second-degree murder by an all-white jury in Kent County, Michigan in 1993. At the time of Smith's trial, African-Americans constituted 7.28 percent of Kent County's jury-eligible population, and 6 percent of the pool from which potential jurors were drawn.


 

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