The New Quo: A Conversation on the Fallacy of Stereotypes and the Importance of Jury Duty

"I had a particular experience my second year being a public defender. It was a trial involving a case where a client was charged with maybe two crack rocks and three pills. He didn't have a prescription for the pills, and obviously crack cocaine is an illegal substance to have. He had gone to trial before and lost on this very same case, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The case came back on appeal, as a result of something that's called Batson violation which tries to ensure prosecutors aren’t illegitimately removing people of color from the jury.

We went through the voir dire process, which is a conversation between the attorneys and the potential jurors that helps the lawyers learn about which people in the room would be a good fit to serve on the jury for their type of case. In that conversation, we got general background information from the jurors, and their perspectives on drug cases. When the jury walked in the room, one question that immediately came to my mind was, "Well, where are the black folks?" New Orleans is about 60% black, but we didn't have that representation for people that were walking into the courtroom to potentially serve on the jury for this case. It was frustrating to me. The only representation of people of color in the courtroom are unfortunately the majority of the people who are being charged with crimes, and we aren't getting a fair representation on the jury panels."

WWLTV: La. only one of two states where unanimous jury not needed for conviction

“Our constitution requires there should be proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” Esman said.  “If two people out of 12 are not convinced of somebody’s guilt, then by definition that is reasonable doubt.”

Orleans public defender Will Snowden said the ability to disregard the doubts of two jurors undermines justice. 

“People are having their constitutional rights violated,” he said.

Think504: Orleans Public Defender Launches Juror Project

"What if the most policed communities had more leverage in deciding the outcome of criminal cases? After three years of defending some of poorest people in New Orleans, the most incarcerated city on earth, local public defender Will Snowden launched the Juror Project; an initiative aimed to diversify jury panels in terms of race, thought, experience, socioeconomic background, and more. “We as a community should be involved with who we think should be sent to prison and a way to be involved is through jury service” says Snowden, “the studies show with more diversity there’s more fairness, there’s longer deliberation, more questions are going to be asked [and] things like implicit biases and racial anxiety are going to be addressed.” This project also comes in the midst of the Supreme Court considering tightening rules around racial discrimination in jury selection for the first time in 30 years."

Podcast: If You Can't Afford a Lawyer

"If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed to you – that’s how it’s supposed to work. But in New Orleans, Chief Public Defender Derwyn Bunton, the lawyer in charge of representing poor people accused of crimes, is saying no. His office doesn’t have enough money or time to do a good job, he says, so he’s refusing some serious cases, which is jamming up the courts and leaving hundreds of people stuck in jail with no lawyer. Bunton’s goal? To break the system in order to fix it."