Tamara F. Lawson, Awakening the American Jury: Did the Killing of George Floyd Alter Juror Deliberations Forever?, 58 Hous. L. Rev. 847 (2021), https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/faculty-articles/918
Houston Law Review
Jury, Jurors, Police brutality, Jury deliberations, Race
In the summer of 2020, the witnessing of George Floyd's death triggered an outpouring of public expression far beyond other cases in modern times. While the experience led some to advocate for reform and participate in antiracism rallies, marches, and campaigns, it also forced many others into internal reflection, awareness, and awakening to the knowledge of a lived experience with police different from their own. The gruesome realities of the video were irreconcilable with those prior beliefs and did not comport with any moral or legal standards of dignity. Prior to witnessing George Floyd's death on video at the hands of multiple police officers, the majority of society believed such things were just not possible. A consistent belief has also been exhibited by jurors, as demonstrated in their frequent acquittals, mistrials, no bills, and dismissals in police brutality and excessive force cases.
Dean Onwuachi-Willig's article entitled The Trauma of Awakening to Racism: Did the Tragic Killing of George Floyd Result in Cultural Trauma for Whites? analyzes the experience of being a witness to the George Floyd killing through the lens of whiteness. This Commentary considers whether the collective trauma of witnessing police violence in 2020 has any translative impact upon the American jury and its future deliberations. To investigate whether the killing of George Floyd will forever change how juries view police-initiated violence, this Commentary examines prior cases of police and vigilante violence directed at unarmed Black victims like George Floyd. The Commentary also questions whether post-Floyd public opinion polling data and individual personal reflection narratives provide sufficient evidence to reasonably predict that juries will trend toward convicting police violence. Lastly, the Commentary discusses the two juridical personalities in police violence scenarios: criminal prosecution and civil litigation, which frequently have diverging outcomes despite identical facts.
Ultimately, it may be too early to realistically opine on the full extent to which potential jurors have been impacted by witnessing George Floyd's death. However, the recent grand jury decision not to criminally indict the police officers responsible for killing Breonna Taylor, notwithstanding the $12 million civil settlement on the same facts, indicates a trend toward the status quo of inequity. At the time of this publication, a $27 million civil settlement has been reached for the Floyd family, yet America awaits the outcome of the pending criminal prosecution. Criminal charges have been formally alleged, and the case outcome is in the hands of the jurors.