Dontrell Collins, a Black man, was sentenced to over three decades to life in prison for a fatal DUI-related crash that claimed the life of two women. On August 29, 2014, Collins drove a green Ford Crown Victoria at over 100 mph and slammed into a vehicle with three female occupants. As a result of the impact, the gas tank of their car ruptured, engulfing the vehicle in flames. Two of the women were pinned in and died, while the third passenger escaped the fatal crash with the help of bystanders. She survived with severe burns.
Recently, Collins’ convictions have been conditionally reversed due to the dismissal of a Black prospective juror from the jury panel. An arraignment will be scheduled to further discuss this dismissal to determine whether racial discrimination was at play. If the trial judge finds no foul play, his convictions will remain. However, if there is evidence of injustice, Collins will be given a new trial.
The appellate court’s ruling strongly critiqued both the prosecutor and the trial judge’s decision to dismiss the Black juror because it lacked support in logic or on the record. For example, the prosecutor and judge cited the criminal history of the potential juror and her cousins as justification for her dismissal but did not ask the juror any direct questions related to those experiences. It is important to note that the prosecutor allowed seven other jurors with some connection to criminal charges (including DUIs) to be a part of the panel–all of whom were not Black.
The judge’s refusal to conduct a three-step process when the defense made an objection to the prosecution’s dismissal of a potential juror based on racial bias further underscores the suspicion of discrimination. The attorney who represented Collins at trial, Jared Thompson, agrees with the District Attorney’s Office to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
In all, the appellate court found the justification given for the racially biased dismissal of the only Black juror on the panel to raise reasonable inference of discrimination and aims to prove that this level of racial discrimination was not incidental, but however purposeful.