The United States Supreme Court will be looking into racial prejudice in jury selection Monday, with the justices considering a case of a black teenager who was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Georgia, The Guardian reports.
According to the report, lawyers bringing forth the appeal on behalf of Timothy Foster, who admitted to participating in the murder of a 79-year-old white woman in 1987, say that he was sentenced to death because jurors, when recommending capital punishment, did not fairly consider evidence that he was intellectually disabled, The Guardian notes.
The prosecution has long insisted that race had nothing to do with the fact that five black individuals were excluded from the jury in the trial held in Rome, Ga. However, notes found almost two decades after Foster’s sentencing indicate that all the potential black jurors had a “B” marked next to their names by the prosecution, which had recommended the death penalty in order to “deter other people out there in the projects.”
“This is a pervasive problem,” the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s litigation director, Christina Swarns, told The Guardian. “It hasn’t gone away. This is not a problem that is limited to the Deep South.”
The Guardian notes that one black woman, Marilyn Garrett, was ruled out for the jury because she was too close in age to the defendant. Garrett was 34, while Foster was 19 at the time. Another black juror was ruled out for being a member of the Church of Christ, which prosecutors said was anti-death penalty, even though the prosecution itself had notes showing that the church had left such judgments up to members.
If the Supreme Court decides that the reasons for dismissing black jurors were not justified or credible, the case could have a huge impact on the U.S. judicial system, including a legal procedure referred to as the “Batson test,” which requires prosecutors to show nonracial reasons for eliminating a juror if a racial pattern can be found in the pre-emptory strikes.
“The criminal-justice system is the part of society least affected by the civil rights movement: Ninety-five percent of the prosecutors in this country are white,” Stephen Bright, Foster’s lawyer, told The Guardian. “When I go ’round the South [a lot has changed] in terms of who is on the school board, who is on the legislature … [but] I go to the courthouse, it’s just like 1940.”