Should the Court Be Allowed to Cull Jurors Based on Race?

A death penalty case (Flowers v. Mississippi) from Mississippi involved a prosecutor who appeared to use peremptory challenges to remove jurors from the pool based on race. The case involves murders that occurred in 1996 and has been tried six times with only one conviction resulting from it. That conviction was handed down from a jury in which potential black jurors had been previously removed from the juror pool. The case has been appealed multiple times and will finally make its way before the Supreme Court of the United States.

In the first trial, an appellate court judge ruled that Evans had committed prosecutor misconduct by intentionally misleading the jury to believe that he had evidence he did not have while also bringing in crimes that were not related to the case. Evans implied that there “taped conversations” of Flowers that did not exist. The court vacated the conviction and Evans tried the case again. Trials number two and three both ended in mistrials. The second mistrial is the more interesting of the two because there was only one holdout, an African-American juror, who was arrested for dissenting. The judge also threatened to jail Flowers and his attorney. The charges against the juror were eventually dropped.

On the sixth try, Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. That conviction is the one before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Can You Eliminate an Entire Race of Jurors?

While most of us would assume the answer to this question is simply ‘no’, juror selection is a part of every trial. Prosecutors and defense attorneys each have ‘peremptory challenges’ that allow them to disqualify jurors who might lean one way or the other. The idea is that this means the least biased jury is somewhere in the middle. Evans used his peremptory challenges to summarily dismiss every black juror from the pool.  

Typically, a defense attorney who senses a pattern of racial discrimination can raise the issue with the court but the defense attorney has the burden of proving that the discrimination was based on race. The judge, sensing a pattern, may force the prosecutor to give specific reasons why they eliminated all the black jurors by giving individual reasons for each. If the judge senses this is a pretense, he may seat the jurors. This is known as a Batson Challenge. 

Evans slipped around the non-discrimination requirement but just barely. He questioned black jurors much longer than he questioned white ones and he seemed to give reasons for excluding them that were only loosely tied to their testimony.  

In this case, the trial court judge found that Evans’ selection was race-neutral because there was no evidence that he had excluded black jurors for reasons that he overlooked in white jurors. An appellate court agreed as did the Mississippi Supreme Court. However, in 2016, Flowers petitioned the Supreme Court to take a look at the conviction and they immediately vacated the decision and sent the case back to the Mississippi Supreme Court after a Georgia case uncovered racism in jury selection (Foster v. Chatman). 

The Supreme Court will be asked to determine if race played a factor in Evans’ peremptory challenges or if his selection was race-neutral.

Talk to a West Palm Beach Defense Attorney

The Skier Law Firm P.A. in West Palm Beach represents defendants who have been charged with crimes. Talk to our West Palm Beach criminal lawyer early and we can help you get the charges dropped or dismissed, or a not-guilty verdict at trial.

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