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Mehserle trial jurors to be asked questions about race, police officers

Potential jurors in the second-degree murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009, will be asked questions about their attitudes towards race relations and police officers, according to a document released today by the Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The 121 questions on the juror questionnaire, which prospective jurors will fill out tomorrow, fall into several broad categories.

In addition to generic questions about personal information, occupation, family, and education, jurors will be asked about their familiarity with Oakland, BART, potential witnesses and trial participants, and the specifics of the case. Mehserle’s trial was moved to Los Angeles because of concerns that the extensive media coverage made it impossible to find a jury without preconceived notions of the case in Alameda County.

But other questions, particularly on the topics of race relations, police conduct, and guns, are likely to draw out more revealing answers.

On the issue of race relations, for example, prospective jurors will be asked whether they “have an opinion as to whether racial discrimination is a problem in Oakland” or in Los Angeles, and whether they have experienced racial discrimination or been accused of it, and whether they have ever “witnessed a police officer show discrimination toward someone.”

Mehserle is white, while Grant was black. The shooting sparked racial tension in Oakland and protests against perceived racial discrimination in the case.

Jurors will also be asked about any previous positive or negative experiences with law enforcement, and whether they have ever witnessed use of force by police officers or police misconduct.

Prospective jurors will also answer questions regarding their experience of and attitudes towards guns and Tasers — a crucial point, given that the defense is expected to argue that Mehserle accidentally drew his gun instead of his Taser.

Attorneys will have until next Tuesday, June 8, to review the questionnaires, and will then have the opportunity to question potential jurors in court. A final jury of 18, with 12 jurors and 6 alternates, is expected to be in place in time for the scheduled start of opening arguments on June 10.

Have thoughts about the jury questionnaire? Leave them in the comments section below.

Filings in this case are available from the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s website.

Contact Steven Luo at