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Courts and Crime

Federal court affirms ruling allowing prosecutors to strike a person of color from Maine jury

A federal appeals court has affirmed a ruling saying that a judge was appropriate in allowing the removal of the only person of color from a jury pool in the trial of a Black man from Lewiston.

Malik Hollis was convicted of two felonies in connection with a 2016 confrontation with four white men in which he was hit with a metal handlebar and taunted with a racial slur. Hollis later fired a gun near them and was charged with reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon, and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon.

During the jury selection process, the judge allowed prosecutors to strike the only person of color from the jury pool, which they said was due to his 11th grade education. The all-white jury then convicted Hollis.

Hollis has since challenged that ruling in both state and federal courts, saying that the juror shouldn't have been excluded in a highly racially charged case.

"The whole system is unfair to the poor, and to minorities," said Jim Howaniec, the attorney for Hollis. "And this is one of the most egregious examples of that situation."

This week, an appeals court affirmed the lower courts' rulings and said that the court acted properly, but acknowledged that the facts of the case were "concerning."

Howaniec says Hollis plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court in the coming weeks, and noted that the Supreme Court sided with the defendant in a similar case in 2019.

A spokesperson for the Maine attorney general's office declined to comment on the case.