Death Penalty Cases in California Under Review After Evidence Reveals Jewish and Black Jurors Were Intentionally Excluded

According to local officials, handwritten notes from prosecutors were found during an appeal case from a previously sentenced man.

Row of empty leather chairs inside a traditional wood-paneled room, possibly a courtroom or formal setting
Image via Getty/Guy Cali
Row of empty leather chairs inside a traditional wood-paneled room, possibly a courtroom or formal setting

Thirty-five death penalty cases have been placed under review in Alameda County, California following the discovery of handwritten notes pointing to the intentional exclusion of Jewish and Black people from juries.

In a statement released this week, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price said her office had been directed by U.S. Federal District Court Judge Vince Chhabria to "review all death penalty cases," as the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is intended to bar such discriminatory conduct. The handwritten notes from prosecutors, per Price's office, were found by a Deputy District Attorney while working on the appeal of Ernest Dykes, who was sentenced back in 1995.

"Any practice by prosecutors to eliminate potential jurors because of their race betrays that core pillar of the criminal justice system," Price said Monday.

At a press conference, excerpted below, Price said the suspected misconduct could stretch back decades and is believed to encompass a number of cases involving multiple prosecutors. Furthermore, any such misconduct is not necessarily exclusive to cases involving a death penalty sentence.

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Regional outlet The Oaklandside reports that Judge Chhabria’s order, dated April 22, states that the handwritten notes in question "constitute strong evidence that, in prior decades, prosecutors from the office were engaged in a pattern of serious misconduct, automatically excluding Jewish and African American jurors in death penalty cases."

This week, Price admitted that the larger process of reviewing these cases will take "a long time," though she didn’t provide an exact timeline. Potentially, Price noted, cases as far back as 1977 could be affected. Price also spoke on the current status of Dykes' case, specifically, reminding the press that those discussions and related processes remain ongoing at this time.

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