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Report: NC Supreme Court jury race discrimination decision part of nationwide trend

The North Carolina Supreme Court is part of a growing number of state courts addressing unconscious racism, also known as implicit bias, in jury selection, according to a new report from The Marshall Project.

NC Policy Watch reported in early May about the state’s highest court historic ruling in a jury discrimination case. For the first time, the state Supreme Court gave lower courts guidance about how to investigate and better assess claims of racial discrimination in jury selection. The decision was hailed by criminal justice reform advocates as progress for the only state in the nation whose appellate courts have never acknowledged race discrimination against jurors of color.

The new opinion is part of a larger effort across the nation in which state courts are reconsidering more seriously how race affects jury selection. The Marshall Project article states high courts in Washington, California and Connecticut have called on or implemented changes to address how implicit bias can unfairly exclude Black people from juries.

“Recent research has unveiled unconscious racism driving everything from police-involved shootings of black men to charging decisions made by prosecutors. Researchers have found that people are more likely to perceive black people as guilty, more likely to shoot them in police simulations and more likely to remove them from juries, even when their other demographics are identical to white potential jurors’,” the article states.

The first state to do so was Washington, which in 2018 issued a rule requiring judges to consider “implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases, in addition to purposeful discrimination,” the article states.

The story goes on:

“At the core of recent arguments about racism in jury selection is the recognition that attorneys too often ‘rely on stereotypes like who is going to be sympathetic or not’ says Catherine Grosso, a Michigan State University law professor who co-authored a seminal 2012 study of death penalty cases in North Carolina. The study found that black people were removed from juries at more than twice the rate of those of other races. The data undergirds [Cedric] Hobbs’ appeal [in North Carolina]. ‘I think what we’re seeing is a recognition that even explicit racism doesn’t always have a smoking gun.'”

Read the full Marshall Project report online. In it, David Weiss, a staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and one of Hobbs’ attorneys, said he is hopeful the North Carolina high court will create a working group to look at implicit bias.

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