Supreme Court revisits alleged racial bias in jury selection

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding racial bias in jury selections.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding racial bias in jury selections.

A Georgia case from the 1980s will be reexamined by the Supreme Court after it was revealed African Americans were allegedly kept off the jury.

The discovery of racially coded notes taken by prosecutors during jury selection is forcing the Supreme Court to take a second look at this murder trial, The Washington Post reports. In 1987, Timothy Tyrone Foster (who is Black) was convicted by an all-White jury in the murder of elderly White woman Queen Madge White. Prosecutors claimed Foster broke into White’s home in Rome, Ga. and sexually assaulted her before strangling her to death.

After being turned in by his girlfriend, Foster ‘acknowledged’ the crime, but defense wondered if he acted alone and questioned the status of his mental health. Furthermore, Foster’s attorney came across the prosecutors’ jury selection notes in 2006, revealing a possible bias agenda to eliminate Black jurors from the trial.

From the report:

The names of the Black potential jurors were “marked with a ‘B’” and highlighted in green. Their race on juror questionnaires was circled. All were at the very top of a list labeled ‘Definite NOs,’ and each was compared with the others in case, according to the notes, “it comes down to having to pick one of the Black jurors.”

Marilyn Garrett, who is African American, was rejected partly because her age was so close to the defendant’s, Lanier told the judge. Garrett was 34, and Foster was 19. The prosecution accepted eight White prospective jurors who were 35 and younger, including a man who was two years older than Foster.

A total of five Black jurors were turned away from the case. Race was reportedly not mentioned in the case, which is why attorneys are questioning why it was a determining factor in the jury process. Prosecutor Stephen Lanier also allegedly told the all-White jury to make an example of Foster in order “to deter other people out there in the projects.”

During the Supreme court case of Batson v. Kentucky, it was deemed unconstitutional to turn away jurors because of their race. But the case of Foster v. The State isn’t the only trial that has raised eyebrows over racial bias. Studies have shown that Black and White jurors are treated differently during peremptory challenges by prosecutors.

From the report:

In the North Carolina study, prosecutors used 60% of these challenges to strike Black jurors, who constituted only 32% of potential jury members. Defense attorneys used 87% of their strikes against White jurors, who made up 68% of the jury pool. “Race discrimination in juror selection cannot be condoned,” said a group of federal and state prosecutors, including the District’s former U.S. attorney Joseph diGenova and former Prince George’s County state’s attorney Glenn F. Ivey, in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court on behalf of Foster.

“Indeed, this court has long recognized that such discrimination causes serious and widespread harm: to the defendant, whose constitutional rights are violated; to the juror, who is excluded from the judicial process; and to our justice system, which is undermined by such inequality.”

At the time of Foster’s trial, Batson was essentially new, giving his attorney an advantage in securing a retrial now. The Supreme Court is set to hear from lawyers on Nov. 2.