Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Sad Tale, but True

I was a young criminal prosecutor freshly minted from law school in January 1982 when I started work at my first job – assistant district attorney in Rochester, New York. At that time, as part of my training, I was given a training manual entitled: “Selection of the Jury by then Chief Trial Assistant District Attorney, Monroe County, Howard R. Relin.

The startling thing about Selection of the Jury was that it directing all assistant district attorney to remove “women and minorities” from the jury whenever the defendant was of African descent.

This appalling policy of the District Attorney’s office was not only morally repugnant, it had been unconstitutional since 1965 when the Supreme Court held in Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965) that: a “State's purposeful or deliberate denial to Negroes on account of race of participation as jurors in the administration of justice violates the Equal Protection Clause.”

I publically raised this issue in the when I ran for District Attorney in 1987 against my former boss – Howard Relin, the author of the training manual. I was denounced as a forger of the training manual as no present or former assistant district attorneys would corroborate the existence of Relin’s jury-selection manual for fear of professional retaliation by Howard Relin. I was branded as using unfair campaign tactics and lost the election by the largest margin in the history of Rochester, New York elections.

However, shortly after election, the highest court in New York, in the case of People v. Scott, 70 N.Y.2d 420 (November 19, 1987) reversed a murder conviction obtained by Relin’s office stating:
Defendant, a black prostitute, was charged with murdering and robbing a white customer, a retired Rochester police officer. She claimed at trial that she acted in self-defense when decedent attacked her with a knife because she failed to satisfy him. The jury found her guilty of manslaughter, first degree, and grand larceny, third degree, and the court sentenced her to a 7- to 21-year prison term on the manslaughter. . . . Defendant contends the conviction may not stand because at trial her counsel established an unrebutted prima facie case that the prosecution had used its peremptory challenges to systematically exclude blacks from the jury for discriminatory purposes . We agree and, therefore, reverse . . .
As part of the brief on appeal, the defense had used the Relin jury-selection manual as proof of that it was the policy and practice of the District Attorney’s Office to systematically exclude jurors solely upon the basis of race, ethnicity or sex. Numerous other cases from Rochester, New York, were reversed as well.

Of what interest today is an event that occurred some 23 years ago? I would answer this way. I know of at least one man still in prison upon a conviction in 1986 where three jurors were peremptorily removed from his jury solely because of their race. He still fights – and I am still helping him to the extent I can – for his freedom.

As important, I believe it is simply naive to believe that in 2010 our criminal justice system has evolved where grotesque examples of miscarriages of justice no longer occur. I, am many others behind bars, know the opposite to be true.


Post a Comment

Play nice!