Commentary

New SCOTUS ruling sends strong message to North Carolina

Editor’s note: Cross-posted from the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed what North Carolina death row inmates have been saying for years: Race discrimination in jury selection is a serious problem, and states cannot continue to ignore it.

Watch our new video on racial bias in jury selection:

The justices ruled overwhelmingly (Clarence Thomas was the only one to dissent) that the Georgia courts must consider evidence showing that prosecutors purposefully excluded black jurors from a capital case. For decades, the Georgia courts had used technicalities to refuse to even consider the egregious facts the defendant uncovered – and continued to push him toward the execution chamber in spite of clear Constitutional violations.

This wasn’t one of those cases where the evidence was iffy. In Timothy Tyrone Foster’s case, the prosecutor’s private notes showed that he highlighted the names of black jurors, marked them with a letter “B,” and put them first on his list of jurors to strike. The prosecution also ranked the African Americans in case “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.”

It doesn’t get much more blatant than that. But sadly, we have examples just as outrageous in North Carolina – and the courts here have done their best to ignore them.

Here is just a taste of the evidence that the N.C. courts have refused to act on:

  • A prosecutor’s handwritten notes that labeled prospective jurors with terms like “blk wino” and “blk, high drug neighborhood.”
  • A note attached to a black juror’s questionnaire showing he was accepted because he attended a “multiracial” church, rather than a black one, and went to “predominantly white schools.”
  • A training session, sponsored by the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys, where prosecutors were given a cheat sheet of “race-neutral” excuses that they could use to justify their illegal strikes of black jurors.

In North Carolina, unlike in Georgia, we have solid data to back up what those notes imply. A comprehensive statewide study of capital cases from 1990-2010 found that prosecutors removed qualified black jurors from jury pools at more than twice the rate of white jurors.

While the evidence is clear, the courts here — just as in Georgia — have refused to do anything about it. Only four of the more than 100 claims filed under the Racial Justice Act were ever heard in court.

Today, the Supreme Court said it’s time to stop making excuses and to stop ignoring even the most obvious evidence of discrimination. We must give African-Americans the right to serve on capital juries, and we must not carry out death sentences tainted by racial bias.

Cross-posted from the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Original posting here.

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