Using the Census as a Legal Defense Strategy

In NLLSA on March 9, 2010 by cgonzal4

Floyd Wayne Williams, Jr. is facing murder charges in connection with the death of two people.  Williams is using a unique legal defense strategy.  I’ll admit, Williams’s legal defense is creative, to say the least – but it also points to a deeper problem that needs more attention by the courts.

How exactly does Williams’s legal defense work? Williams argues that his murder charges should be dropped or, at the very least, that his trial should be delayed until the 2010 Census is complete.  Williams argues  that he can only get a fair trial after the 2010 Census is complete because this will give the court more accurate data as to the county’s racial make-up. This data, Williams insists, is necessary to select a jury that accurately reflects the racial demographics of the county.

Williams is being tried in Clayton County, Georgia, an area that has experienced an upsurge in the number of blacks.  In the 2000 Census, the black population was registered at 50.6 percent of the population. In the most recent count conducted in 2007, the black population has grown to 64.5 percent.

Williams argues that he can only get a fair trial if the jury is drawn using data that most accurately reflects the racial demographics of his county.  Underlying Williams’s strategy is a legitimate concern over the racial make-up juries, especially when it comes to minorities who have been convicted by juries that are not racially reflective of thei r jurisdiction.

This issue is currently being faced by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is set up to decide whether an African-American Michigan resident was wrongfully convicted for murder by an all-white jury in 1991.

According to Jeffrey Abramson, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, there has been an increase in the number of attorneys who are using the racial make-up of a jury as a defense.  He acknowledged that it has been difficult to update lists which show racial demographics and that courts have been relying on data that may no longer be reflective of the current demographics within counties.  Because it is difficult to find more up-to-date lists than what the Census provides, courts that rely on such lists have been reluctant to closely scrutinize them.


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