Two civil rights organizations have filed a class action lawsuit against Mississippi prosecutor Doug Evans (pictured) seeking an end to what they describe as a “policy, custom, and usage of racially discriminatory jury selection.” The lawsuit, filed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the MacArthur Justice Center on November 18, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi on behalf of black prospective jurors in Mississippi’s Fifth Circuit Court District, asks the federal court to issue an injunction against Evans to bar his office from discriminatorily excluding black jurors from jury service because of their race.

Evans has been found by multiple courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, to have unconstitutionally exercised his discretionary jury challenges to strike prospective black jurors from serving on juries. Since 1992, when Evans became District Attorney in Mississippi’s Fifth Circuit Court District, his office has struck black prospective jurors at 4.4 times the rate at which white prospective jurors were stricken. According to the lawsuit, that is “a rate that is unparalleled in any available study.” Evans personally prosecuted the six trials of Curtis Flowers, a death-row prisoner whose most recent conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June because of Evans’ systemic racial discrimination in jury selection.

The lawsuit places Evans’ systemic jury discrimination in the historical context of Jim Crow, lynchings, and white supremacy, providing local examples of the Fifth Circuit Court District’s history of racial prejudice. The complaint states, “the honor and privilege of jury service is a defining feature of what it means to be an American citizen. When state or local officials bar a citizen from service because he or she is Black, that discriminatory act is no mere indignity. It is an assertion that the prospective juror is inferior—a second-class citizen who cannot be entrusted with the responsibilities of full citizenship.” The lawsuit names four plaintiffs as representatives of the class of prospective black jurors, including Nichole Young, whom Evans struck from jury service in Curtis Flowers’ third trial. Evans claimed he had removed Young from the jury because of her views about the death penalty, but a court found that explanation “suspect” because Young’s response to questioning about the death penalty was the same as two white jurors whom Evans permitted to serve. “I was open to hear the evidence and hear the case,” Young said. “It’s not fair.”

The plaintiffs do not seek monetary damages against Evans, but request that the court “issue a permanent injunction forbidding the Defendant and his agents, employees, and successors in office from maintaining a custom, usage, and/or policy of exercising peremptory challenges against prospective Black jurors because of their race.” Jim Craig of the MacArthur Justice Center said, “I don’t think he’s going to change his ways until he’s ordered to change his ways. We think this is the way to actually force him to change.” Chris Kemmitt of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund said, “There’s nothing to stop him from continuing to use his office as a means of discriminating against Black prospective jurors and functionally rendering them second-class citizens, other than intervention by a federal court at this point.”

The U.S. Supreme Court rebuked Evans earlier this year for his misconduct in the six trials of Curtis Flowers. Flowers’ first three convictions were overturned as a result of prosecutorial misconduct, and courts twice found that Evans had unconstitutionally discriminated against black members of the jury in those trials. Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials, which each had juries that included more than one black member, ended in hung juries. In his sixth trial, a jury of 11 white jurors and one black juror convicted him and sentenced him to death. On June 21, 2019, a 7-2 majority of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Flowers’ conviction, again for Evans’ racially discriminatory selection practices. Writing for the Court, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said, “Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection.” Evans’ “relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals,” Kavanaugh wrote, “strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury.”


Kira Lerner, CIVIL RIGHTS GROUPS SUE MISSISSIPPI PROSECUTOR FOR ILLEGALLY STRIKING BLACK JURORS, The Appeal, November 18, 2019; Parker Yesko, Doug Evans sued for using race in jury selec­tion, APM Reports, November 182019.

Read the com­plaint in NAACP v. Evans.