The ACLU's challenge relies in part on a new study of capital cases in Wake County, North Carolina, finding Black jurors are disproportionately disqualified from serving on capital juries.

RALEIGH, N.C. — The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a jury selection practice unique to death penalty trials. The ACLU filed a motion on behalf of Brandon Hill today to stop the jury selection procedure known as “death disqualification.” 

North Carolina prosecutors have used “death disqualification” to require jurors to certify that they are willing to impose the death penalty in order to serve on capital juries. This means jurors who object to the death penalty are not able to serve on capital juries.

The ACLU’s motion argues that because death disqualification impermissibly excludes jurors based on race, gender, and religion, it will violate Mr. Hill’s rights under the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions.

The motion relies on a new study of 10 recent capital trials in Wake County and almost four decades of research that show death disqualification disproportionately removes Black jurors, especially Black women, Catholics, and other people of faith from serving on capital juries. 

The study also shows that Wake County prosecutors have additionally used “peremptory strikes” to further exclude Black jurors — especially Black women — from capital juries. While peremptory strikes can be used to remove jurors from the pool without providing a justification, it is unconstitutional to use peremptory strikes to remove jurors based on their race. 

The study finds Wake County prosecutors employ peremptory strikes against Black jurors more than twice as often than as against white jurors and against Black women at the highest rates of all. 

“The jury is meant to be the voice of the community and to decide the issues without prejudice,” said Brian Stull, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project. “But death qualification results in a jury with an unrepresentative and prosecution-biased viewpoint: one that is more white, more male, and more likely to convict and impose death. North Carolina has a shameful history of all-white juries condemning Black people, often falsely accused of crimes, to death. We call on the state to stop using this dangerous and discriminatory procedure and to stop exercising peremptory strikes by race.” 

A hearing on the motion will be held on August 29, 2022, in Wake County Superior Court.

Duane Bryant and Bruce Lee are co-counsel with the ACLU.