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Task Force Recommends Changes To Conn. Jury Selection Process To Address Racial Bias

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Mark Mirko
/
Hartford Courant
Richard A. Robinson is sworn in by Gov. Dannel Malloy as the first African American chief justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court in 2018.

In 2013, a social worker named Winston Taylor showed up for jury duty in New London, Connecticut. He was being questioned as a potential juror in the murder trial of Evan J. Holmes. When a state's attorney asked Taylor about his perceptions of police, he said he had at times been fearful of cops -- based on his experiences as a Black American. Taylor also said he knew good police officers and would be a fair juror.

Taylor was dismissed from the jury pool after the state’s attorney argued that he showed bias against law enforcement. Years later, Taylor was still bothered by what happened.

“He may not have discriminated by the law, but he failed to understand diversity and people’s experiences,” Taylor told Connecticut Public Radio in 2019. “I don’t care if you’re a judge, I don’t care if you’re a lawyer or a teacher. … You cannot be afraid of our experiences.”

Holmes was convicted in the murder case and he appealed, eventually reaching the Connecticut Supreme Court, where justices heard arguments on Taylor’s dismissal from the jury pool. While the court upheld Holmes’ conviction in December 2019, it also stated that Connecticut should look into the systemic problem of racial bias in the jury selection process. The court announced a task force that would address the issue and recommend ways to diversify juries. 

“We are all entitled to a jury of our peers, and if we’re not getting that or even if there’s a perception that we’re not getting that, then we have a problem,” Connecticut Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson told the radio program NEXT in a recent interview.

The Jury Selection Task Force included public defenders, state’s attorneys and representatives from the NAACP and Connecticut’s George Crawford Black Bar Association, among others.

On Dec. 31, 2020, the task force gave its recommendations. They included allowing noncitizens to serve on juries if they’re legal permanent residents; allowing people with felony convictions to be eligible for jury duty immediately after doing time instead of waiting seven years; and paying unemployed and part-time jurors minimum wage. The group also called on Connecticut to begin collecting demographic data on who serves on juries.

Robinson said in order for people to believe in the judicial system, both the juries and judges need to reflect the diversity in our society.

“The judicial branch is just a microcosm of our world,” Robinson said. “And I want it to look more like the world on the outside, ’cause I think that will bring the kind of confidence we need in our judicial system.”

The chief justice said he anticipates implementing many of the task force’s recommendations.

This interview was featured in a recent episode of NEXT from the New England News Collaborative. Click here to listen to the entire episode.

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