Court overturns death sentence on race claim: The Swamp
 
The Swamp
-
Posted March 19, 2008 2:09 PM
The Swamp

by James Oliphant

The Supreme Court Wednesday overturned the death sentence of Allen Snyder, a Louisiana man convicted of hacking his wife's lover to death, because an African-American juror was unfairly excluded from the panel.

In a 7-2 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court said that the state trial judge made a mistake when he allowed prosecutors to strike an African-American college student from the jury. Prosecutors said at the time that they thought the student worried too much about missing school to be an effective juror.

But the court ruled that was a pretext, largely because the murder trial itself was to last only two days.

And while the justices had no need to get into it, Jefferson Parish, where the trial took place, has a long history involving the striking of black jurors. On appeal, Snyder's lawyers claimed that the prosecutor in the case eliminated all of the African-Americans he could so that he could inflame the jury's racial passions. On several occasions, the prosecutor compared his case to that of O.J. Simpson's -- the trial was held in 1996. The jury returned a verdict of first-degree murder. His lawyers say Snyder should have be convicted of manslaughter.

At the jury selection phase of the trial, the lawyers questioned 85 potential jurors, of which nine were African-American in a parish where one in every five people was black. Four black jurors were dismissed for cause. Then the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to eliminate the remaining five. It's the striking of those five that formed the basis of Snyder's appeal. But since the Supreme Court only had to find racial bias in one instance, it did not address the exclusion of the rest of the jurors.

“Today, the United States Supreme Court reaffirmed its commitment to eradicating racial bias in the selection of juries in this country, an important step in bringing our society closer to the promise of equal protection and fairness for all,” said Stephen Bright, who argued the case before the Supreme Court, in a statement released by the Louisiana Capital Appeals Project. “The Court has resoundingly told judges and prosecutors throughout the country that the practice of striking people from jury service based on their race must cease.”

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the opinion, along with Justice Antonin Scalia. Thomas wrote that the trial judge was in the best position to decide whether the prosecutor was striking jurors in good faith.

You can read the opinion here.

Digg Delicious Facebook Fark Google Newsvine Reddit Yahoo

Comments

Wow, the silence is deafening.

Three conservatives (Alito, Roberts and Kennedy) voted with the moderate and liberal side of the court to stand up for an individual and his rights against the State. I thought I heard you guys telling me that the conservatives didn’t care about civil liberties. What’s up with that?


John W:

What the vote tells me is the racial bias infecting the trial court/prosecution was so profound that not even Roberts and Alito found it intolerable. That those two displayed basic sanity in this instance is not exactly make them particularly notable guardians of civil liberties.

That Scalia and his minion thought the clear cut racial bias to fall within the trial court's discretion is the real story here. I'm not sure they'd reverse if the trial court flat out announced that he wasn't going to allow blacks in on the jury.


I thought I heard you guys telling me that the conservatives didn’t care about civil liberties. What’s up with that?

Posted by: John W. | March 19, 2008 4:45 PM

They can take or leave civil liberties. What really turns them on is absolving corporate interests from any transparency or responsibility.


“They can take or leave civil liberties. What really turns them on is absolving corporate interests from any transparency or responsibility.”

Posted by: chimpy"hussein"mcflightsuit'snavigator | March 19, 2008 9:49 PM

Do you really think so? You know, it would have been easier in the long run for these conservative justices to vote with their conservative brethren in the dissent. Their votes, when added to the dissent, would have been a majority. That would have meant one fewer ruling favorable to defendants, and one less ground upon which other defendants could base their appeals or habeas claims in the future.

So, by voting with the majority, these guys bought extra work for the rest of the federal judiciary. I don’t think they would have done that if they cared as little about constitutional rights of individuals – even those of convicted criminals - as you seem to think.

But, hey, what do I know?


How does Clarence Thomas sleep at night? Does he have even the slightest grip on fairness and justice? Sure doesn't look like it. He just likes to follow whatever his white republican masters tell him.

Kudos to Roberts and Alito . It gives me some hope that they can think for themselves and allow justice to prevail.


But, hey, what do I know?

Posted by: John W. | March 20, 2008 4:56 AM

Yeah, What do you know?


Yeah, What do you know?

Posted by: chimpy"hussein"mcflightsuit'snavigator | March 20, 2008 2:33 PM

Having practiced law for as long as I have, and having watched the trends of the Court carefully all those years, I apparently know more than some people here.


Having practiced law for as long as I have, and having watched the trends of the Court carefully all those years, I apparently know more than some people here.

Posted by: John W. | March 20, 2008 4:42 PM

Wow!! You're ever so smart. Why aren't you working for the DoJ?


Wow!! You're ever so smart. Why aren't you working for the DoJ?

Posted by: chimpy"hussein"mcflightsuit'snavigator | March 21, 2008 6:20 AM

Eeeeeww! pthhhpt! Why the heck would I want to do that? You gotta be totally unimaginative to aspire to a job like that. Career government lawyer is a mental health category, and not a career. What a horrible suggestion.


Post a comment

(Anonymous comments will not be posted. Comments aren't posted immediately. They're screened for relevance to the topic, obscenity, spam and over-the-top personal attacks. We can't always get them up as soon as we'd like so please be patient. Thanks for visiting The Swamp.)

Please enter the letter "p" in the field below: