30 Years After Landmark Case, Exclusion of Black Jurors Continues to Plague Death Penalty

Thirty years after the U.S. Supreme Court's 1986 decision in Batson v. Kentucky prohibited the intentional exclusion of prospective jurors on the basis of race, discrimination in capital jury selection continues to plague the administration of the death penalty across the country. In articles for The Huffington Post and Slate, Angel S. Harris, assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Robert Smith, a senior fellow at Harvard Law School's Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, link the continuing exclusion of black jurors in death penalty cases to the legacy of lynching in America. "While Black men are no longer lynched before all-white crowds gathered on the courthouse lawn," as was one of Harris' relatives in Florida, "Black men are all-too-often condemned to death by all-white juries that are produced by prosecutors’ deliberate exclusion of people of color, particularly Black people, from jury service," she wrote. In his Slate article, Smith describes the persistence of race-based use of discretionary strikes by prosecutors in numerous jurisdictions, and notes that "[t]he mix of prosecutorial impropriety and the exclusion of black jurors has always been a potent combination for injecting racial bias into death penalty cases." He and Harris point to studies in Caddo Parish, Louisiana, and Houston County, Alabama showing systemically discriminatory use of discretionary strikes to remove black jurors from service in death penalty cases, recent cases in which the Nevada Supreme Court found racially discriminatory jury selection in Clark County, as well as race-based jury selection practices in such cities as Dallas and Philadelphia. These practices, Smith says, expose "the inextricable ties between race and the death penalty." The successful exclusion of jurors of color also produces less reliable verdicts, Harris says, pointing to studies showing that because, "compared to diverse juries, all-white juries spend less time deliberating, make more errors, rely on implicit biases and consider fewer alternative perspectives." The U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering Foster v. Chatman (defendant Timothy Foster is pictured), a Georgia death penalty case in which prosecutors struck all the black jurors after highlighting and marking their names on the jury list and ranking them against each other in case "it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors." Prosecutors then argued to the all-white jury to sentence Foster to death to “deter other people out there in the projects.” 

Death row tenant for 10 years preparing to taste freedom again

Victor Jimenez, charged in two killings, signs an agreement to get out of prison by Dec. 1, 1999.

By Caren Benjamin
Wednesday, June 10, 1998
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Legislative Activity - Nevada

  • Passed a bill in May 2003, exempting the mentally retarded from the death penalty in which retardation, described as "significantly subaverage general intellectual functioning," will be determined before the trial. For more information regarding this legislation, Click Here.
  • Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn signed into law four pieces

Former Inmate's Lawsuit Settled for $5 million

Man accused of murder spent 14 years on death row

By Jace Radke <[email protected]>

A man who spent 14 years on Nevada's death row for a crime he said he didn't commit settled a federal lawsuit against Clark County for $5 million, ending a claim that alleged he was not adequately represented by the Clark County public defender's office.