Salvador Mungia, one of GTH’s most experienced trial attorneys, has spent the past five years working with an ACLU-W sponsored group formulating a proposed rule change to make it more difficult for attorneys to exclude a person from serving on a jury because of their race and ethnicity. On Thursday, April 12, 2018, the Washington State Supreme Court adopted the proposed rule change known as GR 37 and is the first state in the country to do so.
The rule change stems from a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Batson v. Kentucky that ruled it is unconstitutional to exclude a person from a jury because of their race. The Court established a procedure for enforcing its ruling that became known as the Batson rule. The Batson rule has long been criticized by legal scholars, commentators, and judges from around the country as failing in its goal of preventing attorneys from excluding potential jurors from serving because of their race. The Washington Supreme Court acknowledged in the case of State v. Saintcalle that the Batson rule isn’t working and something should be done to address that deficiency.
The fundamental problem with the Batson rule is that a court must find that an attorney who excludes a person of color from serving on a jury does so because they intend to discriminate based on the juror’s race. GR 37 includes the requirement that the trial court need only ask whether an objective observer could say that race was a factor in the exclusion of the juror.
GTH is proud of this historic step taken by our State Supreme Court and congratulates Sal on being part of this effort.