A Connecticut man failed in his attempt to have his conviction for assaulting public safety personnel overturned because, he claimed, state prosecutors discriminated against a potential juror who answered she was part of the “human” race during jury selection.
According to appeal filed on behalf of Michael Anthony Edwards, both his and the juror’s right to equal protection was violated when the prosecutor dismissed her for her response to a question about her race on the confidential juror questionnaire.
During jury selection, the prosecutor asked the African-America woman — identified as “C.D.” in court documents — whether there was “anything in your background that would make it difficult for you to sit in judgment of other people?”
“Besides being human?” C.D. replied. “No.”
“What is it about the fact that you’re human that would make it difficult, you think?” the prosecutor asked.
“I think that all human beings come into their court experience with unique experiences, in my particular case with more — maybe some more jury experience, but I think that having served…has convinced me of the need to withhold judgment until all the facts are in. I think my experience probably biases me that way.”
“Have you,” the prosecutor asked, “any other experiences unique to you that you think might influence the work you do as a juror here?”
“No,” C.D. replied, “I wouldn’t think so.”
“One last thing,” the prosecutor said, “I did note on your questionnaire…when you wrote down race, you wrote ‘human.’ Why did you do that?”
“Because that is the race I belong to,” C.D. answered.
According to the prosecutor, he exercised his right to a peremptory challenge — thereby excluding her from the jury — because he found her response of “human” to the question of her race “to be of concern.” It “seemed outside the norm of what one would expect to have placed in the questionnaire box, and I just found that to be disconcerting and didn’t that someone who would fill in…a line like that would necessarily be appropriate to serve as a juror.”
But a defense attorney said he would have answered the question the same way, and that the prosecutor’s line of questioning with C.D. was intended to be discriminatory.
“Did the peremptory challenge against an otherwise qualified minority [C.D.] solely on the basis of her racial self-identification in the juror questionnaire deprive the defendant and [C.D.] of their rights to equal protection of the law?” the appeal asked. “And, in the exercise of its supervisory authority over the administration of justice, should this court disallow the use of racial self-identification in juror questionnaires as a ground for a peremptory challenge?”
The state supreme court acknowledged that the prosecutor had prodded C.D. about her answer to the question of her race, but that his line of questioning was “race neutral,” as it “had to do with an ‘unusual’ response to the juror questionnaire.”
“We agree with the state that the defendant’s and C.D.’s rights to equal protection of the law were not violated,” the court decided, “and the invocation of our supervisory powers is inappropriate in the present case.”