DC Superior Court – Do Juries Represent Defendants’ Peers?

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A bulwark of the U.S. criminal justice system is the right to have guilt or innocence decided by a jury of one’s peers.  This is constitutionally guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and has come to mean those in the jury box should be representative of the community.

The issue of who qualifies as a “peer” is at the forefront of an ongoing case in DC. It involves as many as 100 plaintiffs who claim their juries were racially biased during Covid, thereby depriving them of their rights.  This Friday, DC Superior Court Judge Marissa Demeo could decide how much information the court has to turn over in this case about how racial balance is ensured by the Superior Court. 

Friday’s hearing concerns a motion for evidence filed August 2022 by DC Public Defenders Service Lawyer Jason Tulley,  He requested the names and addresses of the DC jury pool because he had been unable to determine from the court how it was selecting juries.  His query  followed an analysis his office commissioned by a Howard University statistician who found that, while data showed  during the winter of 2021, 45.8 percent of the jury-eligible population in Washington, DC identify as Black, based on court information, only 35.3 percent of petit jurors were Black, and just 34.7 percent of grand jurors were Black.

Prosecutors deny that the plaintiffs were deprived of  their rights and DC Superior Court insists it works to “effectively monitor and enforce nondiscrimination in the selection of jurors.” 

But in a review of trials for homicides and non-fatal shootings, D.C. Witness found that as recently as this summer, selected DC Superior Court juries still did not match the racial make-up of the District.

In five violent crime cases during the  six weeks between June and July 2023, attended by D.C. Witness, White jurors outnumbered jurors of other racial groups, 4-to-1.

For these five cases, 80 percent of the defendants were found guilty and are awaiting sentencing—the sentences  range from one year of time served to life imprisonment.

The data is based on the juries including alternates rather than only deliberating juries.



Jalen Browne, 21, an African American, faced numerous charges, including two counts of first-degree murder while armed, for his involvement in a fatal shooting of Jovan Hill Jr, 22, and Tariq Riley, 19, on July 25, 2021. Browne was found guilty on all counts.

For  Browne’s trial, the court called 80 potential jurors. Of these 80 potential jurors, 51 were White, 19 were Black, and 10 were of other races. The  pool was whittled down to 40 potential jurors, 27 of whom were White, seven Black, and six of other races.

The final jury consisted of 12 jurors with two alternates. The jury’s racial makeup was 10 White, two Black, and two of other races.

The racial makeup of the jurors was:

Juror’s RaceVoir DireJuror PlacementSitting Jury
White Jurors512710
Black Jurors1972
Jurors of Other Races1062


Juror’s RaceVoir DireJuror PlacementSitting Jury
White Jurors63.75%67.50%71.42%
Black Jurors23.75%17.50%14.28%
Jurors of Other Races12.50%15.00%14.28%

Similar data were collected for other trials ongoing at the same time. The defendants in the other cases were also Black.


Yolanda Walker, 52, was charged with one count of assault with a dangerous weapon in connection to an assault that took place on Jan. 17, 2023, on the 1700 block of Columbia Road, NW . On July 14, Walker was acquitted on all charges.

Juror’s RaceSitting Jury
White Jurors8 → 61.54%
Black Jurors4→ 30.77%
Jurors of Other Races1→ 7.69%


Andre Miller, 53, was charged with two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of possession of a firearm during a crime of violence in connection with two assaults that took place on Oct. 22, 2022. Miller was acquitted after a week-long trial.

Juror’s RaceSitting Jury
White Jurors10→ 71.43%
Black Jurors3→ 21.43%
Jurors of Other Races1→ 7.14%


Trevon Hatcherson-Ross, 21, was charged with carrying a pistol without a license outside a home or a place of business for an incident that took place on March 20, 2023, on the 900th block of Spring Road, NW. He was found guilty. 

Juror’s RaceSitting Jury
White Jurors11→ 78.57%
Black Jurors1→ 7.14%
Jurors of Other Races2→ 14.28%

Walker, Miller and Hatcherson-Ross were charged with crimes that were not related to a homicide or non-fatal shooting.


Gregory Taylor, 27, Quentin Michals, 25, Qujuan Thomas, 24, Darrise Jeffers, 23, Isaiah Murchison, 23, and Marquell Cobbs, 21, faced numerous charges, including first-degree murder while armed in the death of 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson on July 16, 2018. All but Cobbs were  found guilty on all counts.

Juror’s RaceSitting Jury
White Jurors10 → 83.33%
Black Jurors1→ 8.33%
Jurors of Other Races1→ 8.33%


Even though these jurors didn’t reflect DC’s racial make-up,a  multi-step selection process is an effort to ensure fairness and proportionate representation on the panels.

First, the court randomly selects citizens’ names from lists of registered voters and people with driver’s licenses in the District of Columbia and sends them a summons along with a questionnaire to determine if they are qualified . 

When a trial is set those who have arrived at the courthouse are selected at random to make a jury pool. That group is then whittled down through questioning by attorneys to determine their suitability for that specific jury panel.

After the pool has been reduced to about a third of its original size, lawyers place prospective jurors in the jury box to see what the potential jury could look like. Both parties can swap jurors in and out until they agree on a fair jury in a process known as voir dire, French for “to speak the truth.” 

The final jury is composed of 12-to-18 people, as each jury is allowed to have up to six alternate jurors. When the trial phase concludes, the alternate jurors are revealed and only 12 are sent into deliberations.

In spite of these efforts, there are reasons why it’s difficult to get enough jurors to balance the panels including exemptions for personal hardships or even inaccurate census data leading to skewed jury notices.  

However, a major issue is non-compliance, according to a source familiar with how the DC Superior Court selects jurors who spoke to D.C. Witness on the condition of anonymity. 

Jurors are summoned to report for service and face a contempt of court citation if they ignore the order.  However, given the heavy enforcement burden on DC police, the source says it’s common for prospective jurors to ignore this legal requirement with impunity.  

According to the source, as many as half of those called fail to show up at the courthouse.  

With a limited pool of jurors, the task of creating panels that fairly reflect the community is logistically and demographically challenging. 

While the cases D.C. Witness studied are noteworthy,  there is no definitive evidence from the data that the racial make-up of the jury either leads to a greater chance of conviction or exoneration.  

In response to requests from D.C. Witness, the Superior Court refused to provide demographic data used in jury selection or explain exactly how they recruit juries.

Similarly, public defenders, DC Superior Court judges, and the DC Superior Court juror offices  declined to comment on D.C. Witness’ data. 

 It is not clear what measures the Superior Court could or should implement  to better balance juries. One step taken this summer was that residents with criminal records can now serve on juries.  

In response to the motion for evidence on jury data to be decided this week, courthouse officials said they believe they can show they don’t have their “thumb on the scale” when it comes to picking juries–that even though the outcome isn’t perfect. They say the process is fair. 

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