Juvenile Justice in Champaign County— A Racial Disparity

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This commentary first appeared on WILL 580’s Public Square.
MY NAME IS JAN KRUSE and as a resident of Champaign County I wanted to
share with listeners the experiences I recently had while serving as a
Champaign County Juror.
I was notified of jury duty the first week of January 2010. After going
through security at the Champaign County Court House, we walked up
the steps to approach the jury assembly room. In the hallway a man was directing us
toward the large room for jury service. Jurors had walked up the steps side by side with
those arriving for trials. The person directing us seemed to instinctively know the white
folks were prospective jurors and the black men and women were either going to court to
face a jury or were the supportive family members accompanying them. It appeared I was
one of over 100 potential jurists. We filled the large jury assembly room and the overflow
west wing area as well. I was shocked to note that between both rooms only one black
male was present to be considered for jury service. This was very troubling in light of the
number of court cases that involve members of the minority community.
Eventually I was chosen for a jury and became one of twelve white people hearing a
case brought against a young black man. I was troubled that his case was not going to be
before a jury of his peers since not a single minority was serving on the jury. This fact has
to affect the outcomes of many trials in Champaign County.
It was most troubling to hear fellow jurors use unacceptable racial terms in reference
to the defendant. When I observed that we were an all white jury, some jurors were
offended that I had noticed. The addition of persons of color as full partners in the deliberation
process could have had a significant impact in this case. The lack of a minority
person’s voice is a failure of the judicial system to bring a missing, necessary, and much
needed perspective.
The “presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” did
not appear to be taken seriously by some during deliberation. Instead, I noted verbal
pressure being asserted by some toward the undecided to join the majority and vote
guilty. Reasonable doubt was not enough, in the face of “majority rule.”
The presence in that jury room of persons with a more diverse ethnic background may
have considered the testimony and the evidence, or lack, of in this case and seen the
defendant from a different perspective, a perspective seldom heard if the jury is of only
one ethnic group.
The inability of the county judicial system to assure that each person has a fair trial
(beginning with a jury of ones peers) is very disappointing. In addition, as the trial continued,
it became obvious that the young man on trial was not being adequately represented.
The lawyer did not appear to fully advocate for his client. It was made painfully clear that
finances are required to obtain a fully engaged attorney. The combination of a jury not-ofhis
peers and the poor representation that is apparently all too common for poor people
makes it doubly difficult for the minority members of our community. An individual’s race
or financial status should not stand in the way of a fair trial in this county.
Until these concerns are fully addressed I contend justice will not be served for all citizens
of Champaign County.

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