The South Carolina Supreme Court has ruled that striking a juror from a civil jury for wearing dreadlocks is not race neutral. Remarkably, there was a dissent filed in the close 3-2 decision by two justices who believe that it is appropriate to strike a juror over hairstyle.
The juror was struck from a civil trial jury in 2004 in Florence County. The defense attorney Anthony Harris expressed “uneasiness” about the dreadlocks. Notably, two other prospective black jurors also were excluded in the civil case involving a car accident.
Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote for the majority: “Regardless of their gradual infiltration into mainstream American society, dreadlocks retain their roots as a religious and social symbol of historically black cultures.” The opinion reversed the South Carolina Court of Appeals and ordered a new trial.
In their dissent, Justices James Moore and Costa Pleicones, agreed with trial judge James Brogdon’s decision that it was appropriate to exclude the prospective juror with dreadlocks: “In other cultures and more often in the past, the hairstyle has been worn as a religious choice, by, for example, Hindus and Rastafarians, and is unrelated to race.” Of course, in our culture, they are generally not worn for those reasons. It is perfectly bizarre to suggest that the hairstyle alone could be grounds for assuming some mysterious belief or exotic faith — no more than saying anyone with a saved head is a skin head. Even if the hairstyle reflected a religious belief, why would that be cause for a strike? Of course, there is voir dire and direct questioning of the juror so that you do not have to rely upon hairstyle alone.
Trial counsel Harris explained to the trial court: “He’s about the only member of the jury I see out there with very long dreadlocks. That gave me some concern in light of how he may react toward my client.” Brogdon assumed a strange standard that “while some attorneys he knew might be inclined to exercise a racially motivated jury strike, he did not believe that (Harris) would engage in such conduct.” That amounts to “I know this guy and he’s no racist.” Presumably, a strange might be prevented from using the hairstyle strike?
Of course, there may be grounds for striking a juror who shows up in a Star Trek uniform and claims allegations to the Starfleet prime directive.
Notably, during arguments, opposing attorney cited “American Idol” finalist Jason Castro, who is white, as having dreadlocks. The first (and hopefully last) use of American Idol as legal authority.
For the full story, click here.
For the opinion, click here.