SACRAMENTO, Calif.–(HISPANIC PR WIRE – BUSINESS WIRE)–Oct. 21, 2002–Trials occur everyday in the United States and many of the inequities in our justice system are often left unrevealed until an appellate court or high profile case bring to light inherent unfairness. As President of the California Public Defender’s Association (CPDA), I am aware of the struggle that defense attorneys endure to give their clients and the public confidence that those entering our courts will not suffer blatant and hostile abuse.
One area that abuse is most evident is when jurors of color or differing ethnic backgrounds are excluded from serving on juries simply because of the color of their skin, their race or their country of origin. This exclusion almost always happens in the peremptory challenge portion of jury selection, when attorneys for “neutral” reasons can exclude any juror. The terrible tragedy is that, to some prosecutors, “neutral” has come to mean any person of color or whose ethnic background or nationality is perceived to make him or her sympathetic to the charged defendant’s case.
Recently, the Fourth District Court of Appeal sent back to a trial judge a case in which a Riverside deputy district attorney exercised his peremptory challenges in such a questionable manner that the trial court is being asked to assess the validity of how this prosecutor used his challenges. This deputy district attorney has also had previous allegations of the improper exercise of peremptory challenges based on race.
What makes this situation most unusual is that Riverside Superior Court Judge James T. Warren had the courage not only to be appalled by this particular deputy district attorney’s conduct but also to question how he could subsequently be promoted in light of such actions.
The California Public Defenders Association stands for the proposition that judges should act as independent bulwarks who protect the rights and dignity of all those who appear in our state’s courtrooms. Such protections should and must extend to jurors who disrupt their daily lives to carry out their duties as informed, caring citizens. When a prosecutor or anyone blatantly focuses on individuals of color or differing ethnic backgrounds in such a way that the message is plain and simple — Your Kind Are Not Wanted Here — our state and nation suffers greatly for it.
We commend Judge Warren for his strong and truly patriotic act in calling to task the Riverside District Attorney for promoting this controversial deputy district attorney to a position of management and leadership. Therefore, we are particularly appalled that the District Attorney has threatened legal action against the Judge and has called for punitive discipline by the Commission of Judicial Performance.
We call on the Riverside District Attorney to reconsider his actions with respect to Judge Warren and to take affirmative steps to make African Americans, Asians, Caucasians, Hispanics, and all people feel that their service as jurors will not result in the ingratitude of disrespect, but will instead be a new way to make our treasured governmental process available and fair to all.
For this release:
California Public Defenders Association
Joseph Spaeth, 415/499-7511
(Marin County Public Defender)
Michael Cantrall, 916/362-1686 ext. 303
(CPDA Executive Director)