UPDATE ON JUDGE STEVENS
Feb. 1, 2017
Last year we shared a story about a Judge in Kentucky who relieved a jury because he believed they would be biased on race. Judge Stevens determined that an all-white jury in the mixed community of Louisville could not necessarily offer a fair verdict against a black defendant. So he dismissed the jury in the interest of fairness. However, opponents did not feel he should have the ability to dismiss a jury panel, and the issue was in front of the Kentucky Supreme Court. When we wrote about this one year ago, Judge Stevens’ fate was uncertain; here is an update on what occurred next.
In August of 2016, Judge Stevens was suspended for 90 days without pay. The disciplinary action was a result of comments that Judge Stevens made accusing a prosecutor of being racist as well as continued public comments made related to the pending case. Judge Stevens promptly apologized and admitted that such an accusation is too serious to be made lightly. This disciplinary action was the result of a complaint and was not the court’s ruling on the jury matter. Judge Stevens returned to the bench after the suspension.
Later in December, the Kentucky Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling on the question of jury selection. They determined it would be short-sighted and ultimately ineffective to allow a Judge to dismiss a jury based solely on race. They believe that jury selection is indeed random and that it sufficiently represents a cross-section of the community regardless of the specific make-up of individual jury panels. They rejected the argument that the reflection of the community must include race. Naturally, Judge Stevens and his supporters are disappointed. They worry that the ruling is a reflection of how institutionalized this bias is and ignores the reality of race relations. According to a statement issued by the public defender’s office, this ruling places an unfair burden on the defense to prove jury bias when they suspect it. Despite potential appellate arguments, Judge Stevens has elected not to pursue the case past the state level, so the matter is settled.