SANTA FE – A state district judge in New Mexico has postponed a jury trial for a man accused of rape after his attorney argued his client’s right to a fair trial was being violated because none of the potential jurors were Black.
Maury Elliot, 25, is accused of raping two teenage girls and a woman in separate attacks between October 2019 and January 2020, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
He was scheduled for trial in one of the cases this week on multiple charges including kidnapping, criminal sexual penetration, criminal sexual contact and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Jury selection was scheduled to start on Monday and testimony was set for Tuesday, but Judge T. Glenn Ellington halted the trial before jury selection began after defense attorney Jennifer Burrill raised concerns that none of the 77 potential jurors were the same race as Elliot.
“It’s hard to imagine a situation where the defendant is the only Black person in the room that every juror could be free from partiality based on race,” Burrill said.
Under state law, defendants can challenge the racial makeup of jury pools but are also required to provide data showing the pool does not represent a fair cross section of the community.
Burrill said that data does not exist in New Mexico, citing U.S. Census data showing that 2.6% of the state population is Black and 1.2% of Santa Fe County’s population is Black. But jury pools are chosen from a more specific category of the population among taxpayers, driver’s license holders and registered voters.
Burrill said none of the three state agencies compiling information of those groups could produce statistics about race, making it impossible to determine if the jurors were proportionately represented.
“The system they have constructed is inherently racist,” Burrill said. “Because in order to make racial challenges, they are denying us the information to make the challenge. It’s an impossible standard because the state does not collect the data.”
Burrill said she thinks the Legislature needs to require officials to collect that data in the future and use it to help policymaking.
Assistant District Attorney Kent Wahlquist opposed Burrill’s motion, arguing that the racial makeup of the jury pool, also called a venire, represented Santa Fe, even though it included no Black people.
“The larger community of the Santa Fe area is 1.2% black. Of a jury venire of 77 people, 1.2% equates to .92, less than one (1) person,” Wahlquist said. “This jury venire has less than one black person.”
Wahlquist also argued the jury pool could only be found unsuitable based on the characteristics of the jurors and not on their ethnic composition.