Conviction overturned after prosecutor removed potential jurors due to race
The Iowa Court of Appeals overturned a conviction after finding that a Scott County prosecutor’s removal of the only two black people from a jury pool was motivated by race.
In 2015, Marquise Miller, a black man, was convicted and sentenced to up to five years in prison.
Police had said Miller and two others fled a Dillards Department Store after shoplifting.
During jury selection for Miller’s trial, there were two black potential jurors in Miller’s entire jury pool. (Scott County is the third-most populous county in Iowa and whites constitute over 86% of its population.) The trial prosecutor from Scott County Attorney Mike Walton’s office said he used a peremptory strike against one of the black potential jurors because “she indicated she had a negative experience with law enforcement.” That negative experience was when an off-duty police officer ran over her granddaughter with a car — killing her — when driving over 60 mph in a school zone. The appellate court said the prosecutor’s explanation for striking this juror was acceptable on its own.
It was when the prosecutor struck the second black potential juror that it became problematic.
The second potential black juror, when asked her opinion on law enforcement, responded, “They’re okay. There’s always room for improvement,” while adding that one of her husband’s friends was a police officer.
The prosecutor used a peremptory challenge to remove her, as well.
After defense counsel objected, the prosecutor justified his removal of both black women by saying that both expressed negative attitudes towards law enforcement. The trial judge accepted the explanation.
Defense counsel also expressed concerns that there were no other black people on the jury panel. In response, the prosecution argued that the law “does not require a particular demographic on the panel.”
On appeal, the appellate court rejected the prosecutor’s “race neutral” justification for his use of strikes. The court pointed out that “two other nonblack jurors responded with just as negative — if not more negative — responses to the question about law enforcement, and they were not struck.”
“If a prosecutor’s proffered reason for striking a black panelist applies just as well to an otherwise similar nonblack who is permitted to serve,” the appellate court explained, “there is evidence tending to prove purposeful discrimination.” The court concluded:
The side-by-side comparison of the response of the stricken black juror with that of the two nonblack jurors who were eventually empaneled, in addition to the question relied on by the State, undermines the State’s given reason for striking the juror. The “Constitution forbids striking even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory purpose.”
Walton’s office has said that Miller will be retried.