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Seattle's King County To Study Jury Diversity

King_County_Courthouse.jpg
Joe Mabel
/
Wikimedia bit.ly/1lAq6bh
File photo of City Hall Park and King County Courthouse in Seattle

King County, Washington, is more than 30 percent non-white. But juries in the state’s most populous county often don’t reflect that diversity.

Now, a study of jury demographics is planned for next year.

Ben Goldsmith is a King County public defender. This year, an African-American client of his was convicted of manslaughter by a jury that had no African-Americans on it. Goldsmith said it wasn’t just the jury that was lacking in diversity.

“In our jury pool of 200 people, only one of them was African-American,” he said. “And that person was excused for a hardship.”

Based on the county’s demographics, the jury pool should have had at least 12 African-Americans. Goldsmith said he sees this all the time.

“The jury pool really does not represent the actual demographics of the county,” he said.

Goldsmith pointed to a Duke University study from 2012 that showed all-white juries are 16 percent more likely to convict a black defendant.

Next year, King County Courts will undertake a study of jury demographics. Potential fixes could be simple: like sending reminder summonses to increase response rates.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."