In a massive 7-1 decision, the United States Supreme Court just threw out the death sentence of a Georgia man after he was found guilty of murder by an all-white jury.
In its ruling the court stated that Georgia prosecutors improperly excluded African-Americans from the jury that convicted him of killing a white woman.
From Fox News:
The justices ruled 7-1 Monday in favor of death row inmate Timothy Tyrone Foster in underscoring the importance of rules they laid out in 1986 to prevent racial discrimination in the selection of juries.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the court that Georgia “prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race” when they struck African-Americans from the jury pool.
But the court did nothing to limit lawyers’ discretionary decisions to reject potential jurors, a practice that the late Thurgood Marshall once said would allow racial discrimination to persist in jury selection,
The outcome probably will enable Foster to win a new trial, 29 years after he was sentenced to death.
Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, saying he would have respected the decisions of state judges who sided with prosecutors and rejected Foster’s claims.
When the case was argued in November, the justices did little to hide their distaste for the tactics employed by prosecutors in north Georgia. Justice Elena Kagan said the case seemed as clear a violation “as a court is ever going to see.”
Still, Georgia courts had consistently rejected Foster’s claims of discrimination, even after his lawyers obtained the prosecution’s notes that revealed prosecutors’ focus on the black people in the jury pool. In one example, a handwritten note headed “Definite No’s” listed six people, of whom five were the remaining black prospective jurors.
The sixth person on the list was a white woman who made clear she would never impose the death penalty, according to Foster’s lawyer, Stephen Bright. And yet even that woman ranked behind the black jurors, Bright said.
The court was not persuaded by the state’s argument that the notes focused on black people in the jury pool because prosecutors were preparing to defend against discrimination claims. The Supreme Court’s ruling about race discrimination in jury selection was about a year old when Foster’s case went to trial, the state said. The 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky set up a system by which trial judges could evaluate claims of discrimination and the explanations by prosecutors that their actions weren’t based on race.
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