Should You Get a New Trial Because Your Jury Was Unrepresentative?

A Michigan man’s case will be heard by the state’s Supreme Court to determine his fate.

Posted: 12/06/2011 06:41 PM EST

If you’re convicted of a crime, should your verdict be overturned if your jury was unrepresentative of your race? A Michigan man thinks so.


Ramon Bryant, an African-American Michigan resident, is challenging his convictions on charges of criminal sexual conduct, stealing $90, and possession of marijuana because he says he was denied a trial before a jury that included African-Americans. On Tuesday, the justices will hear his reasoning.


Based on a computer glitch, fewer jury notices were sent to zip codes in Kent County, which has a higher minority population than the cities who received notices. The question therefore becomes, does unintentional exclusion of minorities from the jury pool entitle Bryant to a new trial with a new jury? Some say yes.


"Excluding of a minority population from jury service does not create a fair and reasonable representation of the community," said Criminal Defense Attorney Bradley Hall. “So it sort of happened by happenstance, but there's no question it's systematic."


Unrepresentative juries have not only occurred in Michigan, however. Recently the Equal Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit on behalf of five African-Americans who claimed that they were illegally excluded from jury service because of their race. Additionally, the group claims that for years judges in Alabama purposely prohibited qualified African-Americans from serving on juries in serious felony cases, especially those concerning the death penalty.


Michigan’s attorney general says Bryant’s conviction should stand and the prosecutors argue that the mistake was accidental.


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