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Racial Bias and the Right to an Impartial Jury - A Standard for Allowing Voir Dire Inquiry

NCJ Number
Hastings Law Journal Volume: 33 Issue: 4 Dated: (March 1982) Pages: 959-983
N L Alvares
Date Published
25 pages
Defendants in criminal trials should have the chance to ask specific questions designed to uncover racial and ethnic prejudice during the voir dire examination of prospective jurors.
This is the only way in which a criminal defendant can be assured of a fair trial by an impartial jury when the ethnic or racial background of the defendant differs from that of the jurors. In the cases of Aldridge v. United States and Ham v. South Carolina, the Supreme Court mandated voir dire questioning about racial prejudice. In the 1976 case of Ristaino v. Ross, the Supreme Court limited the application of the constitutional right to racial inquiry on voir dire to cases like Ham in which 'special circumstances' are present. In the 1981 case of Rosales-Lopez v. United States, the Court reiterated the principle established in Ristaino, but recognized that a nonconstitutional standard court be required in Federal courts under the Supreme Court's supervisory power. These two decisions unduly limited racial inquiry, particularly in trials involving victimless crimes and in State courts. Thus, a constitutional standard should be established to require racial inquiry on voir dire whn requested by criminal defendants facing jurors whose racial or ethnic background differ from those of the defendants. Footnotes are included.