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Study finds Caddo Parish trials lack black jurors, point to racial bias


A New Orleans civil rights law firm has put the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office on notice of a possible lawsuit over allegations it excludes black people from juries based on race.

The MacArthur Justice Center released a copy of a letter Monday it sent to Caddo Parish Acting District Attorney Dale Cox, demanding his office preserve documents that might be used as evidence in such a suit, according to MacArthur Justice Center co-director Jim Craig.

“Cases all across the country including in Louisiana say that when a party gets notice of potential litigation, they are required to take account of that, look at their document retention policies, and make sure that they keep documents and electronic files that are relevant to the issues in the particular lawsuit,” Craig said.

At issue: an anti-death penalty advocacy organization found a history of racial bias in the makeup of Caddo Parish juries. Reprieve Australia examined 332 felony jury trials over a decade, beginning in 2003. It found qualified African American jurors were struck from juries three times more than their non-white counterparts.

Reprieve Australia’s vice president Ursula Noye led the investigation and assembled more than 100 volunteers to help sift through trial documents in Shreveport.

“Many, many hundreds of volunteer Reprieve Australia hours went into collecting the data and then entering it. It was quite expensive as well. We had to pay per copy for those records from the clerk’s office,” Noye said.

Craig, a criminal defense attorney, says he’s witnessed what’s known as “blackstriking” in the Caddo Parish courtroom firsthand. He says the Reprieve Australia findings are compelling because it’s a comprehensive examination of more than 8,000 jurors.

“The evidence that we have to date is strongly suggestive that constitutional rights of African Americans citizens of Caddo Parish have been and are being violated. We are looking to rule out any other possible variables that could account for these patterns,” Craig said.

MacArthur Justice Center is still conducting interviews and studying the law before any decision is made on whether to sue, according to Craig.

Reprieve Australia’s methodology used in Caddo Parish resembles a study of blackstriking in Jefferson Parish released in 2003, according to Noye. Other studies in at least three other states have found similar rates of peremptory dismissals of black potential jurors.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.