State v. Tremblay

Decision Date19 March 2003
Docket NumberPl 97-1816AB
CourtRhode Island Superior Court



Claiming that the grand jury and petit jury selection process in Providence County is constitutionally flawed, the defendants in this criminal case have moved this Court to dismiss an indictment that charges them with murder and conspiracy. Their challenges to the jury selection system are principally premised upon claimed violations of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.[1]

Distilled to its essence, the defendants contend that the indicting grand jury and any petit jury empanelled under the current jury selection methods reflect unconstitutional underrepresentations of and purposeful discrimination "against minorities, Blacks, Hispanics, and residents of Providence, Central Falls and Pawtucket." Defendants' Memorandum at 30.[2]

The Court disagrees.

* * * * *

On May 23, 1997, the grand jury returned its indictment in this case. The defendants, who were without means to retain private attorneys, were thereafter provided with able court-appointed counsel who were accorded ample funds by the Court in order to engage a qualified expert to assist them. Some years elapsed before the defendants and the State finally filed all of their memoranda and their experts' reports. The defendants filed their most recent memorandum on February 20, 2003.

The Court recognizes that much of the delay is attributable to the protracted discovery process related to retrieving and reviewing petit and grand jury records and the preparation of the reports of their respective experts. The parties agreeably consented to providing each other with generous enlargements of time to complete their efforts. Mindful of the implication and the import of the issues underlying this motion, and cognizant that the defendants have been admitted to bail and are not incarcerated, the Court therefore granted the parties' requests not to set unduly restrictive time tables or deadlines.

Nonetheless on several occasions the Court was constrained to express its concern to the parties over the inordinately long period that it was taking them to prepare their pleadings such that this motion was ripe for consideration and disposition by the Court. On January 13, 2003, this Court again met with counsel and renewed those sentiments.

At that January 13 conference, defense counsel expressed a desire for an evidentiary hearing on the instant motion. On January 17 2003, the Court entered an Order noting that such an evidentiary hearing would not be had unless the Court was first satisfied, from all of the pleadings, that the defendants had established a requisite prima facie case in support of their claims pursuant to Duren v Missouri, 439 U.S. 357, 364 (1979) and its progeny. No objection to that Order has been lodged by any party.

The parties have now submitted their full complement of pleadings. The defendants' filings comprise two memoranda of law (hereafter "Defendants' Memorandum" and "Defendants' Reply Memorandum") and two Affirmations, with multiple statistical exhibits thereto, in the form of reports by their expert, Dr. Andrew A. Beveridge (hereafter "Beveridge I and/or II"). The State's materials include a responsive legal memorandum together with an Affidavit by its expert, Dr. Stephan Michelson, in the form of a report that also includes several statistical exhibits (hereafter "Michelson").[3]

Pursuant to this Court's January 17, 2003 directive, the parties have also jointly filed a "Statement of Agreed Facts" (Exhibit A hereto) that sets forth, inter alia, the manner and means by which individuals are presently summoned for grand and petit jury service. Also attached (Exhibit B hereto) is a copy of the petit Juror Qualification Questionnaire (the grand juror questionnaire is identical to that of the petit juror questionnaire, save for its yellow color and its designation as "grand" jury). Reference will be made to Exhibits A and B as may be necessary or relevant to this Decision.


The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed . . . ." U.S. Const. amend. VI. The Sixth Amendment is made applicable to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 526 (1975).

Because a jury must "be a body truly representative of the community . . . and not the organ of any special group or class," the United States Supreme Court has held that "the selection of a petit jury from a representative cross section of the community is an essential component of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial." Taylor, 419 U.S. at 527, 528.[4]

Although this mandate does not require that "juries actually chosen must mirror the community and reflect the various distinctive groups in the population" or that a defendant receive a jury composition of his choice, "the jury wheels, pools of names, panels, or venires from which juries are drawn must not systematically exclude distinctive groups in the community and thereby fail to be reasonably representative thereof." Id. at 538.

In order to establish a prima facie case for a violation of the Sixth Amendment's fair cross-section requirement, a defendant must demonstrate:

"(1) that the group alleged to be excluded is a 'distinctive' group in the community; (2) that the representation of this group in venires from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community; and (3) that this underrepresentation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury-selection process." Duren, 439 U.S. at 364.

Failure of a defendant to substantiate any one of the three elements of the Duren test forecloses a Sixth Amendment challenge. United States v. Allen, 160 F.3d 1096, 1103 (6th Cir. 1998) ("Duren and its progeny make crystal clear that a defendant's prima facie case includes all three elements . . ., and each must be established . . . ."); accord United States v. Traficant, 209 F.Supp.2d 764, 780 (N.D. Ohio 2002).

After juxtaposing the defendants' Sixth Amendment claims to Duren's three-part test, this Court holds herein:

1. The defendants can show, in part, a prima facie case as to Duren's first prong, i.e., Blacks and Hispanics are cognizable groups.
2. The defendants' offerings under Duren's second requirement (fair cross section of the community) fail to demonstrate impermissible disparities of Blacks and Hispanics in Pawtucket or Central Falls, and their statistical claim of underrepresentation in the City of Providence does not exceed constitutional limits.
3. The defendants' assertions as to Duren's third requisite element are wholly without merit and devoid of any showing of systematic exclusion.

Accordingly, the defendants cannot succeed in their Sixth Amendment challenge. Consideration of each of the three Duren elements is set forth below.

1. Distinctive Group

Although the United States Supreme Court has not clearly defined "distinctive group" for the purposes of a Sixth Amendment fair cross-section analysis, courts have held that Blacks and Hispanics qualify as "distinctive" for Sixth Amendment purposes. United States v. Jackman, 46 F.3d 1240, 1246 (2d Cir. 1995) ("There is little question that both Blacks and Hispanics are 'distinctive' groups in the community for purposes of [the Duren] test"); see Castaneda v. Partida, 430 U.S. 482, 495 (1977) (recognizing that "it is no longer open to dispute that Mexican-Americans are a clearly identifiable class").

Courts have, however, consistently held that community residents or groups classified by geographical location alone do not constitute cognizable classes under the fair cross-section analysis. United States v. Foxworth, 599 F.2d 1, 4 n. 4 (1st Cir. 1979) ("[W]e cannot see that the views and attitudes of voters of one city or town are in any way 'distinct' from those of voters in a neighboring community"); Traficant, 209 F.Supp.2d at 780 ("Federal courts consistently have found that residents of a geographic area are not a distinct, cognizable group based on their place of residence alone"); United States v. Conant, 116 F.Supp.2d 1015, 1024 (E.D. Wis. 2000) ("[E]very court that has looked at the question of whether the residents of a geographic area may constitute a 'distinctive' group for Sixth Amendment purposes solely due to the location of their residence has answered negatively").[5]

Although the defendants correctly assert that Blacks and Hispanics are recognized as distinctive groups, neither the residents of nor the geographical units of Providence, Central Falls or Pawtucket are cognizable or distinct groups for the purposes of the defendants' Sixth Amendment challenge, or for that matter, their equal protection claim. Part II, infra. Moreover, as held in Part I (3)(A) and Part II herein, the defendants cannot in any way, either directly or by implication, classify "renters" as a distinct or cognizable group who garner constitutional protection in these jury selection challenges.

2. Fair and Reasonable Cross Section of the Community

Even if a defendant might show that a cognizable or distinct group has been excluded from the jury selection process, under Duren's second prong a defendant must also demonstrate that the group's exclusion from the venire was not "fair and reasonable" in relation to the number of group members in the subject community. Duren, 439 U.S. at 364. As earlier noted, a defendant has no entitlement to a jury that is a ...

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