In the interest of fair trials, attorneys can dismiss people from jury pools for dressing strangely, for being fat, even for just looking at them funny.
What lawyers can't do is dismiss potential jurors based on their race, gender or ethnicity. Yet, attorneys and academics say, it happens all the time.
To root out discrimination in the jury room, critics have called for a radical solution: Get rid of peremptory strikes, which typically allow lawyers to dismiss a limited number of jurors, no questions asked.
But an outright ban seems unlikely, as the practice is deeply entrenched. "Will the sun shine at night? That is as likely as getting rid of peremptories," says David Baldus, a criminal-law professor at the University of Iowa College of Law
A more realistic reform, some experts say, would be to cut back significantly on the number of potential jurors each side can boot without explanation. But other attorneys argue that peremptory challenges remain a vital tool to help lawyers select a fair jury despite the risk of racial profiling.
Judges already can deny peremptory strikes if they think attorneys are targeting jurors because of their race, gender or ethnicity. But judges often are loath to probe whether attorneys are guilty of discrimination, attorneys say. And when judges do ask questions, it is easy for lawyers to come up with a benign reason for striking jurors.