Jenner & Block

7th Circuit finds Prima Facie Evidence of Discrimination in Jury Selection

In a case of first impression, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit found prima facie evidence that the government may have violated the equal protection rights of Jenner & Block pro bono client, Wayne Stephens, when the government peremptorily struck minorities of different ethnic backgrounds from the pool of potential jurors.  United States v. Stephens, 2005 WL 2064001 (7th Cir. 2005).  

The client’s jury pool had consisted of 24 Caucasians, 4 Hispanic-Americans, 3 African-Americans, and one Asian-American.  The government exercised its peremptory challenges to strike six minority jurors: 3 Hispanic-Americans, 2 African-Americans, and the sole Asian-American juror.  The government did not strike a single Caucasian juror, even though Caucasian jurors comprised 75% of the venire.  As a result of peremptory strikes by both parties, Mr. Stephens was tried and convicted before a jury of 11 Caucasians and one Hispanic-American, with two Caucasians as alternate jurors.  Mr. Stephens, whose underlying conviction for wire fraud was affirmed on appeal, also argued that the government engaged in a pattern of discriminatory strikes during the jury selection, which may have violated equal protection rights of the jurors and Mr. Stephens.

Associate Irina Y. Dmitrieva, under supervision of Partner Barry Levenstam, argued on behalf of Mr. Stephens before the Seventh Circuit, contending that, for purposes of demonstrating a discriminatory pattern of strikes, a court could “aggregate” minorities of different ethnic groups.  The Court agreed, ruling that because the pool of potential jurors was comprised of 75% Caucasians and the government used all of its strikes on minorities, the pattern of strikes raised an inference of discrimination.  

The case is now on remand to the district court for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the government had “legitimate non-discriminatory reasons” for striking minority jurors.