Flawed Jury Selection Methods Could Favor Ex-Cop Who Allegedly Raped Black Women

Defense attorneys can be given leeway to choose jurors more likely to side with their client.

Twelve white jurors will ultimately decide if Daniel Holtzclaw, 28, a former Oklahoma City police officer, is guilty of raping and sexually assaulting at least 13 black women, attorneys announced on Tuesday. Holtzclaw is accused of abusing his authority as a police officer to target, pull over and assault black women between the ages of 38 and 54 while on duty.

Final jury selections were made on Tuesday and not only is the jury all-white, but it's also majority-male. This is concerning.

An all-white jury was selected in the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who is accused of sexually assaulting black women.
An all-white jury was selected in the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who is accused of sexually assaulting black women.
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Common strategy submits that a defense team should try to assemble a jury that best suits their client. Prospective jurors first fill out questionnaires, and then the judge and likely the lawyers converse with them. Some potential jurors are eliminated by attorneys on both sides "for cause," such as people who are friends or relatives of the victims or the defendants. People who are or have relatives in law enforcement may also be eliminated, as well as anybody with friends or relatives who have had less than savory encounters with the police.

Attorneys can also use a certain number of "peremptory" challenges to exclude people without giving a reason. These “gut feelings” can bias jury selection and give defense lawyers leeway to choose people who are more likely to side with their clients.

The jury in the Holtzclaw trial consists of eight men and four women, all of whom are white. Holtzclaw's father is white and his mother is of Japanese decent. Three black men were rejected as jurors, according to Patricia Santos, a reporter with ABC affiliate KOCO.

Jury pools are legally mandated to be representative of the jurisdiction’s demographics. Over half of Oklahoma City’s population is female and 16 percent of the city’s population is black, according to the most recent census data. But that doesn’t mean the entire population is in the eligible jury pool.

Oklahoma has the second-highest incarceration rates for black men in the country. The state also incarcerates more women than any other state in the nation, with 127 of every 100,000 women being locked up -- double the national rate.

This is just one example of how the legal system targets black Americans, and it has been heavily scrutinized for this bias.

While many cases have attracted scrutiny for jury selection processes that appear to lean heavily on race as a deciding factor, the concerns extend beyond that in the Holtzclaw trial. Rape culture is a pervasive force in our society, which means the jury pool is less likely to understand or empathize with the victims.

The selected group of jurors may find it hard to identify with the victims, with whom they don't share a common racial background, and likely don't share their experience of sexual violence, either. The victim-blaming element gets more complex when the alleged assailant is white and the brutalized person is black and female.

Misogynoir -- a term coined in 2010 by Moya Baliey describing the intersection of racism and sexism -- is a brutal reality for black women. So even if one of the four white women on the jury has been sexually assaulted, she is still capable of demonizing a black woman as naturally promiscuous and, therefore, "asking for it."

The bottom line, however, is that Holtzclaw and his alleged victims are products of a society where black women are routinely abused by white men in positions of power. And there are likely more victims than arrest or conviction rates show, since, according to the Department of Justice, for every black woman who reports her rape, at least 15 do not. For white women, at least five do not report their rapes for every white woman who does. The countless black women who have been sexually and physically abused by police officers and other authority figures doesn't help us speak out about this violence.

This is a complex situation. The Holtzclaw trial is playing out against the backdrop of a broader historical narrative of white men in power targeting and assaulting black women. The selection of a jury that doesn't acknowledge such a history is not unbiased or capable of delivering a fair verdict.

Update: This article has been updated with more specific information about Holtzclaw's racial background.

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