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Donald Smith, associate professor in Old Dominion University's sociology and criminal justice department, offered commentary in a news story that aired on National Public Radio's Morning Edition program Thursday, Jan. 17.

The segment, "Jury Probed for Racial Bias in Cape Cod Case," discussed how the judge of a high profile racially charged murder case in Massachusetts is holding hearings a year after the conviction to determine whether racial bias tainted the jurors' guilty verdict.

Prosecutors argue that the convicted man received a fair trial, pointing to the three questions asked of the jurors during the "voir dire" or preliminary examination process: could they be impartial; would they believe a black witness; and did they believe blacks were more likely to commit crimes?

Smith contends that those questions were a useless exercise.

"Those three questions are so obvious that no one is going to fess up to having a problem with any of those things," Smith remarked.

Instead a more rigorous and subtle questioning should be used. He notes, however, that sometimes jurors are selected because of their prejudices, not in spite of them.

"It is in fact a poker game and that jury is literally the hand you have been dealt. Everybody is trying to stack the deck. Sometimes they can't help but smile when they see the jury they've drawn," Smith said.

The full segment can be heard on NPR's website at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18177106

This article was posted on: January 28, 2008

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