Legal Scholar: Race matters in jury selection

Defense counsel has obligation to discuss race during jury selection process, says Joy in recently published law review

Given the importance that race and racial bias may play in certain cases, defense counsel has an obligation to determine when and how to discuss issues of race during jury selection in order to be effective, argues a criminal justice expert at Washington University in St. Louis.


“When race matters in a case, it plays a role in the outcome, just like the state’s burden of proof, the credibility of witnesses, the identification of the defendant-client, how the jury views the police involved in the case, or, if the client testifies, how believable the jury thinks the client is,” wrote Peter Joy, JD, professor of law, in a recent essay in the Northwestern University Law Review.

“Race matters to this degree because race affects the way jurors view each of these issues,” he wrote.

In the piece, Joy addresses the importance of a trial lawyer discussing the lawyer’s fears about a case, including issues of race, in jury selection. He discusses issues of implicit racial biases and explains why race matters and how important race-salient jury selection is, especially when race is not an obvious issue in the case. He also suggests ways an attorney could approach discussing the issues raised by the situation in Ferguson with the panel of prospective jurors.

“Especially in times when issues of race are on the minds of potential jurors, such as currently in the St. Louis area due to the shooting of Michael Brown and continuing protests in Ferguson and several other cities over racial injustices, failing to question about bias in some cases may result in stacking the jury against the accused,” Joy wrote.

To read the full essay, visit