Friday, March 21, 2008

Jury Duty in not "FOR WHITES ONLY", Supreme Court says.

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled that keeping Blacks off the jury is gross error, even after the O J Simpson acquittal.
The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 on Wednesday, 19 March, that the trial judge in a Louisiana murder case — one that involved a prosecutor’s use of the O.J. Simpson case to try to help win a death sentence against a Black man — was reversible ERROR in rejecting a challenge to the denial of a seat to one Black juror. The removal of two Black jurors by prosecutors led to the seating of an ALL-WHITE jury trying a Black man for murder. His name was Allen Snyder. The Court’s decision was confined to the rejection of one of the two Blacks on the jury panel.

The ruling came in the case of Snyder v. Louisiana (06-10119). Although the case had gained prominence because it appeared to be "a test of the use of racially charged comments by prosecutors to win either convictions or death sentences when Blacks were on trial". In announcing its decision in the case, the Court did not mention the episodes in which the prosecutor referred to this as his ”O.J. Simpson case” to draw a parallel to Simpson’s prosecution, suggesting that there a Black man had gotten away with the murder of his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., wrote the majority opinion for the Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, dissented.

The Court’s decision appeared to be a straightforward application of the 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky and sequels to it — decisions that barred race-based uses of automatic (”peremptory”) challenges in criminal trials. Justice Alito’s opinion, recited well established legal principles, but focused primarily upon the specific facts in prosecutor’s removal of a Black college student.The prosecutor tried to justify his exclusion of the Black man on reasons other than race. He said, the Black man appeared nervous. Then, he argued, that the young Black man had obligations as a student teacher.

Justice Alito and 7 of the 9 members of the Supreme Court saw that this was nothing more than an old trick in the hands of a new magician. These same techniques have been used in the South for years to exclude the few Blacks in the jury pool from serving on juries. Seven Justices decided that neither of those reasons justified the exclusion of the Black juror, Jeffrey Brooks.

Defense lawyers for Allen Snyder objected to the exclusion of Jeffrey Brooks, as well as to the removal of another Black juror, Elaine Scott. Justice Alito said that, because it was “clear error” on its face for the trial judge to reject the Batson v. Kentucky challenge to Jeffrey Brooks’ exclusion, there have no need to rule on Ms Elaine Scott’s removal and the defense attorney's objection to it.

Justice Clarence Thomas, the only Black member of the Supreme Court, in his dissent, contended that “none of the evidence in the record as to jurors Jeffrey Brooks and Elaine Scott demonstrates that the trial court clearly erred in finding that they were not stricken on the basis of race.” He appears to have set an unreasonably high standard for the Defense lawyers to meet in order to successfully challenge the exclusion of all of the Black jurors.

In Allen Snyder’s trial, there was a jury pool of 85, including nine Black potential jurors. The prosecution successfully excluded all nine; four were excluded for stated causes, and five were excluded for no reason at all. The Prosecutor simply used peremptory challenges. When using a peremptory challenge, a Prosecutor is not required to state any reason. He simply tells the court, "I do not want that person on the jury. I do not need to have a reason; and, if I do, I do not have to tell you." Only two of the five peremptory challenges used against 5 of the potential Black jurors were at issue in the 19 March 2008 ruling.

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