The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that Georgia prosecutors discriminated on the basis of race when they excluded two black prospective jurors from serving in the trial of a black defendant facing the death penalty.
Timothy Foster had argued that the exclusion of African-Americans from the jury tasked with weighing his case violated the Constitution, which prohibits states from using what are known as peremptory strikes to leave out jurors because of their skin color.
“Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows,” said Chief Justice John Roberts in a 7-to-1 opinion in Foster v. Chatman — effectively throwing out Foster’s sentence, which was reached by an all-white jury.
Peremptory strikes allow lawyers for both sides to strike jurors for any reason other than a discriminatory purpose. But after Foster death sentence was final, his legal team had uncovered “an arsenal of smoking guns” in his case — namely, notes from the trial in which prosecutors weren’t so subtle about their exclusion of potential jurors on the basis of race.
Among other tactics, the prosecutors had highlighted the name of every prospective juror who was black and marked it with a capital B, with an explanation at the top of the juror rolls indicating that the letter signaled the juror’s race.