Race, as a matter of constitutional principle, cannot factor into the selection of jurors for criminal trials. But in the American justice system, anyone with a bit of common sense and a view from the back of the courtroom knows the colorblind ideal isn’t true in practice.
Racial bias largely seeps in through what’s called “peremptory” challenges: the ability of a prosecutor — and then a defense attorney — to block a certain number of potential jurors without needing to give the court any reason for the exclusion.
The number of challenges allowed varies by state, but commonly 15 or more are permitted. Folk wisdom, among those familiar with the song and dance, is that prosecutors use these challenges to remove nonwhite jurors, who are statistically more likely to acquit, while defense attorneys — who can step in only after the pool has been narrowed by prosecutors — typically counteract by removing more white jurors.
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