Was Racist Jury Selection the Reason for Black Man’s Death Row Sentence?
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Timothy Foster was sentenced to death row in 1987. Photo courtesy of BBC.

Summary: The Supreme Court is determining whether or not race played into an all white jury’s decision to put a black teen on death row.

The federal supreme court has announced that it’s looking into the possible racism in Timothy Foster’s 1987 death row sentence. Foster, who is black, was given an all-white jury, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan said the case appeared to be a clear violation of rules meant to prevent racial discrimination in jury selection.


Foster believed that if the jury was not all-white that he would not have been handed such a severe sentence. NPR writes that he was convicted of killing an elderly white woman.

He has currently been on death row for nearly thirty years.

Stephen Lanier, the prosecutor in Foster’s case, had asked for the death sentence to send an example to “other people out in the projects,” according to the BBC.

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Lanier denied using discrimination when picking the jury, but Foster’s case was re-opened in 2006 when the state of Georgia showed that prosecutors had singled out black people during jury selection. For instance, one of the prosecution’s handwritten notes had “definite no’s” next to five black people’s names, and potential jurors were labeled as “B#1,” “B#2,” and “B#3.”

At Foster’s trial in Rome, Ga., the prosecutor used his peremptory strikes to knock out all the qualified black potential jurors, according to NPR. The defense objected, but the trial judge and the appeals courts after that accepted the strike reasons which included “failure to make eye contact,” looking “bored,”and  being “divorced.”

The United States is infamous for its discrimination against African-Americans. A 2011 lawsuit claimed that 82% of black jurors were denied cases in Alabama, and a 2015 study found that prosecutors were three times more likely to strike out black jurors than non-black jurors.

Trial lawyers are given a number of “peremptory strikes” to whittle down pools of potential jurors to twelve members, but a peremptory strike can be challenged if deemed racial in nature. The lawyer then must give a race-neutral reason for the strike.

An Equal Justice Initiative found that one of the most common reasons lawyers gave for these strikes against black jurors were “low intelligence” or living in “high crime” areas.

Since 1986, the Supreme Court has ruled that jurors cannot be excluded because of race.

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-34703088

Source: http://www.npr.org/2015/11/02/452898470/supreme-court-takes-on-racial-discrimination-in-jury-selection


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