U.S. Supreme Court to Address Discriminatory Jury Selection in Death Penalty Case

On Tuesday, Dec. 4, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Snyder v. Louisiana, a case involving a black defendant sentenced to death by an all-white jury after the prosecution used its peremptory strikes to exclude all of the qualified black jurors.  During Allen Snyder’s 1996 trial for the murder of a man his estranged wife was dating, prosecutor James Williams of Jefferson Parish urged the all-white jury to sentence the defendant to death so that Snyder would not "get away with it" like O.J. Simpson. Simpson was acquitted of a highly publicized double homicide less than a year before. The defense challenged the selection of the jury as a violation of equal protection, but Snyder's conviction was upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Texas death row inmate Thomas Miller-El because of the prosecution's racially discriminatory jury strikes. The Court not only looked at the credibility of the reasons the prosecutor gave for eliminating individual black jurors, but also drew inferences from the cumulative effect of the prosecutor's actions throughout the process.  When Snyder's case first came before the Supreme Court, it was remanded back to Louisiana in light of the Miller-El ruling.

Before the trial, the prosecutor had made public references comparing Snyder's case to O.J. Simpson's, but he promised the trial judge that he would not make such references before the jury. This same prosecutor reportedly displayed on his desk a toy electric chair with pictures of the faces of the five black men he had sent to death row pasted to it. Two of the people Williams sent to death row were exonerated after it was discovered that prosecutors had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence.  Jefferson Parish was known for having supported white supremacist David Duke in various elections.
(Posted November 30, 2007). Read the Petitioner's and State's briefs here. Amicus briefs have also been filed in support of Snyder by the Constitution Project and Religious Ministers of Jefferson Parish. 

See also U.S. Supreme Court and Race.