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Report: African-Americans under-represented on Champaign County juries

Mark Reutter, Law Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — While finding no statistical evidence of bias in the selection of jurors, African-Americans were noticeably under-represented on juries in Champaign County.

A report of observations of state and federal courts conducted by the University of Illinois College of Law and the League of Women Voters of Champaign County found “a significant discrepancy between the demographics of Champaign County and the demographics of those citizens reporting for jury service.”

Students at the law school conducted the observations of the Sixth Circuit Court of Illinois and U.S. District Court for Central Illinois between September and December 2004.
While 11 percent of the county’s population is African-American, African-Americans constituted 6 percent of the jury pools during the observation period.

In 17 jury trials in which African-American men were defendants, four African-American men and 10 African-American women (out of 252 jurors and alternates for each jury) were seated. Nine potential African-American jurors were excused in the jury-selection process.

The report recommended that the judges consider revising jury-selection procedures to “make the jury pool more representative of the county’s population demographics.”
The report also faulted the televised arraignment proceedings used by the county courts, saying there were various cases in which defendants “could not hear proceedings and did not understand remarks addressed to them.”

The report further recommended the use of a Spanish interpreter on high-volume court appearance days, such as Mondays, to enhance “the perceived fairness of judicial proceedings in the county.”

More than 130 law students each spent 12 hours of court watching last fall, trained by the League of Women Voters.

Observations were compiled through a Web site created for data input by the project. The students also submitted paper reports, which were used to crosscheck information entered through the electronic database.

A total of 1,657 hours of court-watching data was used in the analysis performed by statistics students under the supervision of statistics professor Adam T. Martinsek.

The report represents a pilot project by the law school and the voters league to compile a large database of courtroom observations.

“In the overwhelming majority of observations, our courtrooms were perceived as places where judges and other participants observed decorum and treated one another with respect,” the report noted.

The project was organized by Joan Miller, the chair of the justice committee of the League of Women Voters of Champaign County; J. Steven Beckett, director of the trial advocacy program in the law school; and C.K. Gunsalus, adjunct professor in the law school and the president of the League of Women Voters of Champaign County.