The Supreme Court ruled to overturn an all-white jury's verdict to give a black inmate the death penalty. The court's decision follows evidence of prosecutors strategically keeping potential black jurors from making it onto the final jury.
The justices voted 7-1 in favor of overturning the jury's decision, which could mean a new trial for Georgia inmate Timothy Tyrone Foster. He was sentenced to death 29 years ago after confessing to killing a white woman, according to the Associated Press.
The defense turned over notes they obtained from the prosecution that showed how that team kept potential black jurors from the jury. Prosecutors described those jurors as "B#1," "B#2" and "B#3" in their notes. They also used two jury strikes to exclude two potential black jurors from the final jury and even ranked a white woman who stated she would never vote for the death penalty as a better option.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, "Prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race." He added that since the two potential black jurors were kept from the jury "on the basis of race," those strikes amount to "two more than the Constitution allows."
Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter. In his opinion, Thomas specifically cited Foster's confession and believed that even with an all-white jury it would not present new evidence to lessen Foster's sentence. "Foster's new evidence does not justify this court's reassessment of who was telling the truth nearly three decades removed from voir dire," Thomas wrote, referencing a jury selection term.
Foster's attorney Stephen Bright believes his client will receive a new trial following the decision. Foster has long claimed jury discrimination, but Georgia courts hearing his appeal continued ruling against him before it went to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court's decision may have overturned the jury's verdict, but it did not rethink peremptory strikes, the reason black potential jurors were kept off Foster's jury in the first place. Lawyers can use a set number of strikes when selecting a jury to bar or remove potential members without giving a reason. Unless, of course, there's a clear indication that lawyers are doing so for reasons pertaining to a potential juror's race, sex or ethnicity, according to Cornell University Law School.
Bright did not immediately respond to Complex's request for comment.