Criminal Law Blog

Statistical analysis showing underrepresentation of African Americans in Superior Court jury venires fails to convince the DCCA that the Sixth Amendment has been violated


Players:  Associate Judge Thompson, Chief Judge Washington, and Senior Judge Pryor.  Opinion by Judge Thompson.  Jonathan S. Zucker for Mr. Israel.  Quin M. Sorenson for Mr. Cheadle.  Trial Judge Frederick H. Weisberg.

Of note:  These appeals from the appellants' seven-week triple homicide and obstruction of justice trials raised several issues.  The most interesting is the Court’s guidance on using statistical analysis to challenge the composition of a client’s jury:

  • Under Gause v. United States, 6 A.3d 1247 (D.C. 2010) (en banc), defendants are entitled to discovery on the District’s jury selection procedures to support a claim that those procedures systematically underrepresent African Americans in jury venires.  This appeal was originally remanded in 2012 because the trial court erred by summarily denying Mr. Cheadle’s discovery motion.  On remand, Mr. Cheadle obtained discovery that is the subject of this appeal.

  •  According to a statistician retained by Mr. Cheadle, data from the Superior Court Juror Office revealed that during the four months preceding Mr. Cheadle’s trial, African Americans were underrepresented on jury venires by 10 to 15.6 percentage points. 

  • According to a statistician retained by the government, data from the Juror Office showed that during the same time period, African Americans were overrepresented among individuals on the Master Jury Wheel (i.e., the list from which the Juror Office draws prospective jurors) who were sent summonses for jury duty. 

  • The Court held that a constitutionally significant underrepresentation of a distinct group in either the Master Jury Wheel or the venires during a specific time period would satisfy the requirement for appellants to show representation that is not “fair and reasonable in relations to the number of such persons in the community.”  Slip op. at 16 (quoting Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357, 364 (1979)). 

  • The Court rejected the appellants’ argument that the Juror Office violated the Sixth Amendment by failing to take corrective action in response to the disproportionately high rate at which African Americans apparently failed to respond to jury summonses and were overrepresented among those whose summonses were returned as undeliverable to the Juror Office.  According to the Court, “[t]he underrepresentation of African Americans appears to be attributable to external factors – undeliverable mail or the choices of individual prospective jurors to respond to their summonses or not appear for service – not to systematic exclusion existing in the jury-selection process.”  Slip op. at 20. 

  • The Court indicated that its analysis would have been different if the appellants had presented evidence that “the Juror Office’s policies and practices . . . encouraged African Americans to avoid or to be absent from jury service.” Slip op. at 21.  NG