News 11.03.15

U.S. Supreme Court Investigates Racial Bias in Georgia Man’s Murder Case

By Ariana Costakes

The Supreme Court is reviewing the case of Georgia death row inmate Timothy Foster to determine if prosecutors violated the Constitution when they excluded all black potential jurors from his trial, according to the

New York Times

.

Foster, a black man, was found guilty of the murder of a 79-year-old white woman and sentenced to death in 1987. Notes found decades later revealed that prosecutors may have excluded jurors from the case on the basis of race.

According to the

New York Times

, prosecutors circled the words “black” on the juror applications and highlighted their names. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said the case may violate the 1986 Supreme Court ruling,

Batson v. Kentucky

, which called racial discrimination in jury selection a violation of the United States Constitution. Under this ruling, however, prosecutors need only come up with a non-discriminatory excuse for excluding the jurors.

In an

op-ed

in

Salon.com

last year, Innocence Project Co-Founder Barry Scheck said that racial discrimination in jury selection can lead to wrongful convictions, and that the 1986 decision does not prevent racial bias from affecting jury selection since prosecutors can easily provide other excuses for excluding jurors of color.

“Across the country, discrimination in jury selection is an open secret.  The Supreme Court has banned the practice in theory, but in reality, this discrimination continues unchecked. Prosecutors in capital cases nationwide successfully justify removing qualified African-American jurors because of the way they dress, their eye contact, because they are too old, or too young, because they work full-time, or stay at home, or are retired.”

Scheck used the case of Louisiana exoneree Glenn Ford as an example. Ford faced an all-white jury in his 1988 trial, which took place in a predominantly black community. Scheck says that the unrepresentative jury in Ford’s case was one of the major contributing factors in his wrongful conviction. Ford was exonerated and released last year only to die of lung cancer months later.

In 2012, the North Carolina Supreme Court conducted a review of 173 capital cases and discovered that prosecutors in these cases excluded more than half of black jury candidates. Similar studies conducted in Louisiana and Pennsylvania yielded similar results.

A decision from the Supreme Court in Foster’s case is expected in the spring.

Read the

New York Times

article

here

.

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