Foster v. Chatman, SCOTUS No. 14–8349. Argued November 2, 2015—Decided May 23, 2016. Episode 189 (Duration 7:29)
Prosecutors Wrote B’s Next To All The Potential Jurors Who Were African American. Prosecution makes it pretty clear that they struck black jurors because of their race.
In a 7-1 decision written by Roberts (Thomas was the lone dissent). The defense had obtained prosecutor’s files years after he was convicted of strangling and raping a 79 year old victim.
The files had hand written “B”s in front of all the black jurors.
Ultimately, the Court found that, while all of the five potential black jurors had been kept off the jury for racial reasons, the proof was clear at least as to two of those jurors that there was no reason but race for excluding them.
“Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows,” Roberts wrote.
Non Race Reasons
The prosecution had an array of excuses for striking these two jury members, including:
- she had a job working with disadvantaged youth
- she kept looking at the ground
- she gave short answers
- she appeared nervous
- she was too young
- she misrepresented her familiarity with the location of the crime
- she failed to disclose her cousin was arrested on a drug charge
- she was divorced
- she had two children and two jobs
- the defense asked her few questions and
- she did not ask to be excused from jury service.
Many other jurors accepted by prosecutors had the same attributes as that juror and the second juror whose elimination was at issue.
The State tried to argue that the markings in their file were they because they wanted to be careful and mindful of a Batson issue, but Roberts did not buy that for a second.
Instead, he noted that the argument was made for the first time in the U.S. Supreme Court and it “reeks of afterthought.”
The sad thing here is that 4 of the black stricken members were found to be “justified” ie had valid race neutral reasons and this case really suggests the facts have to be way out there before a judge is likely to find that a Batson violation has indeed occurred.