The Unexpected “Case Of The Lesbian Juror” That Could Help Win U.S. LGBT Rights

When gay Nigerian inmate Daniel Osazuwa found himself in a Pasadena court for assaulting a prison guard, the prosecution struck a lesbian woman from his jury. The prosecutors claim they removed her because she has Nigerian friends and could be biased in favor of Nigerians. But Osazuwa’s public defenders say prosecutors removed her for her sexual identity and that the trial judge erroneously accepted the prosecution’s reasoning. Now Osazuwa’s defense has appealed the case to the Clinton and Carter-appointed judges sitting on the Ninth Circuit Federal Court and asked them to decide whether lawyers should be allow to dismiss jurors because of their sexual orientation. If the federal court says no, it could spell a monumental civil rights victory for LGBTs.

The LA Times explains:

For more than a quarter of a century, since the Supreme Court decided a case called Batson vs. Kentucky, it has been against the law for trial attorneys to dismiss potential jurors on the basis of their race — a tactic once common among prosecutors trying to keep those who might be sympathetic to a minority defendant off the jury.

Subsequent rulings on Batson challenges have added gender and religion to protected categories, but the sole effort to get the courts to add sexual orientation failed in a Midwestern case that reached the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals six years ago.

More recent Supreme Court rulings have overturned the laws on which the 8th Circuit ruling was anchored, giving gay rights advocates hope that the Osazuwa challenge could secure equal protection for sexual orientation, said Jon W. Davidson, legal director for the national Lambda Legal organization that fights court battles on behalf of gays and lesbians.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Mark R. Yohalem has stood by the prosecution’s claim that they removed the juror for her Nigerian-sympathies rather than her sexual identity and has added that, “that lower courts are supposed to refrain from making rulings on constitutional questions that are the domain of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

But the court’s ruling could set off a national effect resounding with the Department of Justice’s July brief stating that courts should regard LGBTs with heightened scrutiny because of the long history of institutionalized discrimination against them.

You see, if the judges find that the exclusion of LGBTs from a jury goes against the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, it could positively affect current cases against the Defense of Marriage Act and in favor of an Employee Non-Discrimination Act that current say that discriminating against queers is totally OK.

If a federal court says it’s not OK, then all three branches of government will have no choice but to react, possibly pushing forth LGBT protections much sooner than anybody thought.

Image still via Note: woman pictured is not the lesbian juror referred to in this case.

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  • QJ201

    I always got tossed off juries in college because I was a psych major.

  • Danielle

    Hey, the court probably knows better than to summon me for jury duty. I mean, come on! A progressive, Pagan, bisexual, transgendered, intersexual woman who happens to also be a writer? No way. Not happening. *shrug*

  • TommyOC

    @Danielle: That makes sense. I guess I always get accepted onto jury panels because I carry just one label: American. It’s plain as day that my sympathies lie toward justice and fairness, regardless of the parties involved.

  • Danielle

    @TommyOC: Now, if we can just get the District Attorney to see THAT about us and ONLY THAT, we wouldn’t have any need for this court battle. Would we?

  • Interesting

    Great catch.

  • Kyler

    I must be missing something here. Where does it say she was kicked off for being a lesbian? I read the LA Times article and it never mentioned how she was asked whether she was lesbian or not. Is this a normal question for jury duty? If it’s not then how did they know she was a lesbian? To me this is making something out of nothing. From what information is available I will side with the prosecution on this.

  • Elloreigh

    I’m not seeing any obvious bias in the prosecution’s dismissal of her as a juror. Defense and prosecution are often allowed to dismiss a set number of potential jurors for what they perceive as possible bias without having to give any reason at all. Apparently this juror was dismissed for cause – her Nigerian contacts. One could certainly debate whether that’s a flimsy reason in itself, without the lesbian element.

    I always get dismissed in peremptory challenges. I don’t presume that it’s my orientation, but the fact that I have had family members working in law enforcement and that my job (don’t ask, not telling) puts me in regular contact with people connected to the legal profession.

  • o

    The prosecution said that she has “Nigerian friends.” Bullshit. That doesn’t mean she’s biased, unless she’s some kind of Nigerian nationalist. They removed her for being lesbian.

  • KyleR

    @o: Again, where is the proof of this assertion? Were you in the court room when she was dismissed? Was she asked of her sexual orientation? Did the prosecutor say anything derogatory towards her before the assertion that she was being dismissed due to her Nigerian friends? If you do not have the evidence to support your claim you should not make the assertion as the appeals claim, Queerty and 365Gay make that she was dismissed based on her sexual orientation.

  • Vern

    Hopefully she’ll get to take the case. The prosecutors’ argument about Nigerian friends is so transparent that you have to be an idiot not to see through it.

  • Cam

    1. I don’t care why she was dissmissed, the fact is, sexual orientation shouldn’t be allowed to be used as a reason, since it is not protected, I hope this case locks that into the law.

    2. The higher court wouldn’t have taken the case unless it had some merit. If there wasn’t a suggestion that sexual orientation was used then the judge would have just dismiessed.

  • Dan Avery

    I think its a more complex issue then we’re seeing. The juror wasn’t dropped (allegedly) because the prosecution didnt like lesbians—their rationale was likely that as a Nigerian lesbian, she’d be biased toward the defendant, a gay Nigerian man. There might be some validity to that.

    The problem is that sexual orientation—like race and gender—is one of those topics EVERYONE has an opinion about. If all gay jurors were removed from gay cases you’d greatly increase the chance of a homophobe being on the panel. Just like removing black people from a trial won’t remove race from the equation, itll just stack the jury box with white people, full of their own ideas about race.

    If a murder suspect was a bank teller, I would think its okay to remove a librarian from the jury. Because besides fellow bank employees most people dont have a bias for or against bank tellers. Thats not the case with gays and minorities.

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  • Vern

    @Dan Avery: We don’t take Americans off of American juries just because they’re American. The prosecution wants to make sure the defense gets a bad juror so they have an easier job. It’s simple game theory.

  • Courage Nigeria

    Who is Daniel Osazuwa, the inmate Nigerian Gay Man who is the remote control for this brewing civil right case? Why is he in jail? Did his sexual orientation play any role in his incarceration? What role is his sexual orientation playing this assault accusation?

    Who is the lesbian juror? How did she get selected? Is she a Nigerian by angle of friendship with Nigerians? Is she a friend of Daniel or the Osazuwa’s family? Or is her relationship to Mr. Osazuwa a matter of sexual relationship? Would a Nigerian/American or African/Black/White/American be unsuitable as juror in this case because of the country or continent affiliation?

    Who is Daniel Osazuwa? Who is the Lesbian, Nigerian Friendly Juror?

    This case is got an accent! Waiting eagerly for answers please help me out!

Comments are closed.