A Victory for Racially Inclusive Juries in Washington

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The Appeal

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The transcript calls him Mr. Meyer, or Juror №5. In October 2014, he arrived at Seattle Municipal Court, which handles misdemeanors, for the trial of Matthew Erickson. Mr. Erickson had been charged with unlawful use of a weapon and resisting arrest.

The judge told the prospective jurors that the lawyers would question them to see if they were “unbiased.” The prosecutor and the defense attorney each got fifteen minutes. Defense counsel’s question about whether any of the jurors had ever argued with a police officer led to this conversation with Mr. Meyer:

[MR. MEYER]: I was walking to Volunteer Park to meet some friends when two police cars pulled up and asked me to come up to the car and put my hands on the car. And I asked them for what reason. They said that somebody had just stole something from a church nearby and that I fit the description. I was kind of upset with that because I didn’t think I fit the description of somebody who just. And I asked [ . . . ] what was the description [ . . . ]. I said, “Was it a guy with long hair?” because I wore my hair long. And they wouldn’t tell me what the description was, so I talked back to a cop.

[MR. MEYER]: They took my ID and ran it and then let me go.

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: How did it make you feel to be accused by the police of doing something that you hadn’t done?

[MR. MEYER]: Angry, embarrassed, and upset.

Mr. Meyer was asked nothing more on this topic. When the lawyers had finished their questioning, it was time for the challenges “for cause” — in other words, arguments that particular jurors could not be fair. Neither side mentioned Mr. Meyer. Then came peremptory challenges: the ability of either side to remove a potential juror for any non-discriminatory reason. The judge agreed with defense counsel’s suggestion that the jurors remain in the courtroom while these challenges were announced.