Ahmaud Arbery trial: Why the all-white jury selection is provoking controversy

The jury selection of a murder trial in the US has provoked anger after a nearly all-white jury was picked to decide whether three white men are guilty of murder for shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was jogging though a neighborhood in Georgia.The selection of 11 white jurors and one Black man has drawn complaints from prosecutors and the victim’s family that jury selection process was blatantly unfair.

The judge noted the "intentional discrimination" in jury selection but said the trial over Ahmaud Arbery's killing would begin.

The trial has brought new attention to a debate and growing movement around the US to remove “peremptory challenges” or "strikes" which allow lawyers to summarily dismiss jurors. What do we know about the case?

Mr Arbery was killed on February 23 last year when a white father and son armed themselves and pursued him after spotting the 25-year-old black man running in their neighbourhood.

More than two months passed before authorities arrested Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, on charges of felony murder and aggravated assault.

50-year-old William “Roddie” Bryan filmed the shooting and has also been charged with murder.

William “Roddie” Bryan, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael at the jury selection at the Gwynn County Superior Court. Credit: AP

The video shows Mr Arbery run around the truck to the right before he cuts back in front of it. Then a gunshot can be heard, followed by a second shot.

Mr Arbery can be seen punching a man holding what appears to be a shotgun, who then fires a third shot point-blank. Mr Arbery staggers and falls face down in the street.

The case is expected to scrutinise whether the men's actions were motivated by racism.How do strikes work?

During jury selection, the defense and prosecution each get a certain number of peremptory challenges, or strikes, that lets them dismiss potential jurors without explanation.

Lawyers can also ask to remove a prospective juror for cause if they believe that person is biased or lacks the ability to serve, though they must explain the potential bias.

Ahmaud Arbery's mother Wanda Cooper-Jones (left) walks towards the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick. Credit: AP

Still, the US Supreme Court has ruled that peremptory strikes cannot be used to dismiss jurors based solely on their race. If a judge allows a challenge to a peremptory strike, the attorney who wants to remove a juror must offer a “race-neutral” reason for doing so.

But critics say lawyers can get away with abusing peremptory challenges as long as they provide a reason that is not about race. They also say a 1986 US Supreme Court decision governing the practice has failed to end discrimination in trials.

Could change be coming to the American jury system?Around the country, courts are beginning to change the rules to prevent the unfair exclusion of prospective jurors based on race or ethnicity.

The Washington Supreme Court did so in 2018, saying judges don’t have to find purposeful discrimination to deny a peremptory challenge, and that challenges based on “implicit, institutional, and unconscious biases” can be rejected.

The court also said certain justifications for removing prospective jurors - distrust in the legal system and knowing someone who has been convicted of a crime - are invalid.

In 2020, California adopted a similar set of invalid justifications for peremptory strikes. The rule changes will begin to apply at criminal trials next year and in 2026 for civil trials.

Two months ago, the Arizona Supreme Court announced it was eliminating peremptory strikes beginning January 1.