Just Mercy: Preemptory Challenge

Courtesy of Warner Brothers Picture

By. Bronsten Kossow

As a disclaimer, I’m not the type of person who writes  a movie review to tell you about shots, styles, depth of field, or even the cast. Usually, I tend to depict how it applies to society or will affect the  future. That being said, here is the “Just Mercy” film review, just in time for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Oh, and last disclaimer: SPOILERS!

    In a small nut shell, Brian Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan), finds a passion in Law and eventually graduates from the prestigious Harvard Law School. Of all the places, he heads down to Alabama where the racial boundaries still existed in the 1980’s America. There Brian meets with several death row inmates. Among whom was a a man named Walter “Johnny D” McMillan (Jamie Foxx), who had been  convicted for the murder of an 18-year old Caucasian female. However the investigation, witnesses, and trail just didn’t all add up.

    The movie’s overall theme blatantly focused on racism, especially toward the main character Brian Stevenson and the supporting actor, Walter McMillan. 

Now that I have read the book and watched the movie,  I want to get down to the root of what’s just been bugging me about this entire film. . I can’t help but  compare and contrast the difference between the book and the film. There are pieces in the book that prolongs elaborate other reasons  why Mr. McMillan’s case was so interesting. And I do mean to do this crash course style, so hang onto your seats!

    One of these important parts the book describes in detail is Walter McMillan’s first trial. It was quickly portrayed as a brief moment in the film, whereas long-formed in the book. McMillan’s first trail had a serious case of the peremptory challenges and strike of jurors. This action is before the hearing date (voir dire) where both the defense and the prosecution review the juror selection. Jury selection, many times made at random, is supposed to assist in the deliberation of the trial — without bases of racial, political, sex, or other demographics. If the jurors didn’t meet the requirements by both sides you are striked. (Side note: In the O.J. Simpson case the attorneys went through a number of potential jurors, and examined six to strike. This could be based of off sex, race, affiliations, town they lived in, if they’re married, if they were abused, if they own a weapon, etc.) Mr. McMillan subsequently, had a total of eleven hand-selected Caucasian jurors and one African-American.Why only one African-American you might ask? Well, simply because it was “diverse”. McMillan’s rushed trial landed him on death row as a result of a biased jury. This should have been stopped by the judge. 

In 1986, another similar ruling made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky (476 U.S. 79) argued that African American James Batson, who had been convicted of burglary had an unfair trial due to a biased jury. A multitude of African American jurors were excused by the judge. Also, 8 jurors were striked out by the defense and 6 jurors in the prosecution. The Supreme Court decision came to a 7-2 vote in Batson’s favor, acknowledging that Kentucky Courts had violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    We live in a country where our freedom is tangible. It’s apart of us being American. When courts’ deliberation is harmful to someone because of their race, sex, or title we defaulted the preestablished freedom that was given to us in the first place. The court of Alabama altered the God-given rights and privileges of Mr. McMillan, and his rights of being a United States citizen. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

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