Thursday, March 24, 2016 by Julian Kramer
Due to the lack of minority representation among the jury, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens decided to postpone a drug trial and dismiss the entire jury panel altogether.
Despite objections from both the defense and the prosecution, Stevens brought in a new group of jurors — and it wasn’t the first time he did that. Stevens had previously dismissed the jury at a theft trial of an African-American defendant due to the absence of black jurors in the panel.
Now, the Kentucky Supreme Court is looking into the issue to see if Stevens does have the authority to dismiss jury panels due to lack of representation. This problem is not new to Jefferson County, as several black defendants have already complained about their conviction by an all-white jury in the past.
In requesting the Supreme Court to hear the issue, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dorislee Gilbert argued that other judges “may feel societal, political, and other pressures” to dismiss a jury for lack of minorities, if allowed.
Gilbert wrote that the judge “struck the jury based on nothing more than unsupported fear or impression that the jury might not be fair because of its racial makeup.” She further added that there was no consideration given to the efforts of those who sacrificed their time for jury duty.
In dismissing the jury in this recent case, Stevens used his November 18 trial and dismissal as precedent.
“We’ve already done this one time,” Stevens said. “So right off the bat, you’ve got a blueprint and we can be a lot more efficient, in theory.”