Lawyer: If no black jurors, trial unfair
As defense attorney Norman A. Pattis interviewed more than 100 prospective jurors for an upcoming murder trial in Norwich, he wondered, "Where are all the young black men?"
Darnell X. Moore, 23, also known as "Boo-Boo," has pleaded not guilty to the fatal shooting of Namdi Smart, another African-American man on Aug. 27, 2010, on Lake Street in Norwich. Moore turned down an offer from the state to plead guilty in exchange for a 30-year prison sentence, instead opting for a trial.
Prosecutor David J. Smith is expected to call eyewitnesses when the trial gets under way before Judge Barbara B. Jongbloed. But before the jury is sworn in, Pattis wants to put on the record that the 12 people who will decide whether Moore is guilty, possibly resulting in a 60-year prison sentence, are not Moore's peers.
Pattis said there was not a single African-American male in the jury pool, so-called venire panel, and that the lack of black men may be a violation of his client's Sixth Amendment right to "a jury comprised by a representative cross-section of the community."
In his motion for a hearing, Pattis cited U.S. Census figures, which indicate that as of 2011, 11.1 percent of Connecticut's 3.58 million residents were African-American, and 6.5 percent of New London County's 273,500 residents were African-American. One of the two African-American women in the panel of prospective jurors was selected to serve on the jury.
At a hearing Tuesday, Pattis called Judicial Branch employees who are responsible for randomly assembling jury pools from lists provided by the Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Revenue Services, Department of Labor and voter registration lists. Those who have been convicted of a felony are not allowed to serve on a jury for seven years, but the state does not check criminal records before summoning potential jurors.
"Unless people tell us they are a convicted felon, we wouldn't know," testified Esther Harris, deputy director of jury administration.
Pattis also questioned Sam Hannan, deputy director of information systems, and Monica Endres, an acting jury clerk in the New London Judicial District.
"Has anyone asked you how is it possible in the state of Connecticut that a young black man facing trial for murder can face six days of jury selection and not see another black man?" Pattis asked.
The administrators testified that statistics on the number of African-American men called to jury duty are unavailable. Though panelists are asked about their race and ethnicity in a questionnaire they fill out upon reporting for jury duty, they are not required to answer the question. The questionnaire indicates the information is "required solely to enforce non-discrimination in jury selection."
"How do you gather data on non-discrimination if people are allowed to opt out?" Pattis asked Harris.
"We don't," she responded. Any changes in the procedure would need to go through the legislature, she added.
Under state law, those who fail to respond to a jury summons face a civil fine, but the employees said they were unaware of any such fines being imposed, even though the Judicial Branch sends a list of "delinquent" jurors to the state Office of the Attorney General.
Pattis said he plans to call more witnesses when the hearing resumes Thursday. Ideally, he said, he would like the judge to strike the jury panel that has been seated and to continue jury selection until the panel is more representative. He admitted that that is not likely and acknowledged that he is establishing a record for a future appeal, should Moore be convicted.
"What animates this is my sense that this system fails," Pattis said. "If I walk into a room and I've got 12 people of color deciding my fate, I'd kind of like to know why there are no white people."
He said under the existing system, people who are affluent enough to drive, those who vote, those who have jobs and collect unemployment and those who pay taxes are summoned for jury duty. One solution, he said, would be "to look where you're more likely to find a more representative panel of people."
"For example, what would be wrong with putting people on welfare on a jury?" he said.