Muslims and Pakistanis are “cognizable groups” protected by Neil/Slappy

June 8, 2006

In a case of first impression, the Fourth District Court of Appeal held that Muslims and/or Pakistanis are members of an “ethnic” group protected from invidious discrimination during jury selection. In Olibrices v. State, 929 So. 2d 1176 (Fla 4th DCA 2006), the court reversed the trial judge for refusing to require the prosecutor to provide a “race neutral” reason that would justify the attempted peremptory strike.

Judge Gary Farmer, writing for a unanimous panel, wrote, “This juror was a member of an objectively discernible group.” He noted that there are approximately 500,000 Pakistani people living in the United States,¬†that Pakistanis are overwhelminly Muslim, and that their population is heavily Semitic in origin. “We therefore think its culture, language, history and — yes — its religion, make it objectively and discernibly large, distinct and homogeneous enough to be deemed an ethnic group capable of identification.”

The court noted that although lawyers have traditionally used the phrase “race neutral” when asserting a “Neil challenge,” a better term would be “non-invidious” because the case law encompasses not only race, but also sex and ethnicity.

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