The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday in favor of a Georgia death row inmate who claimed racial bias in the jury selection process. In Foster v. Chatman [SCOTUSblog materials] the court held that the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision that petitioner Timothy Foster failed to show purposeful discrimination was clearly erroneous.
The case involves a black defendant and a white victim. The state of Georgia struck all four black prospective jurors, and the prosecution’s notes later revealed that the prospective jurors had been identified and labeled as black. The Georgia courts found no race discrimination. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court reversed:
The State’s new argument today does not dissuade us from the conclusion that its prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race when they struck Garrett and Hood from the jury 30 years ago. Two peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.
Justice Samuel Alito filed a concurring opinion, and Justice Clarence Thomas dissented.
The court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in the case in November. The justices questioned the lawyers about whether they had authority to hear the case and then spent the rest of the time on the race issue. Many of the justices appeared to side with the petitioner, pointing out that many of the prosecution’s reasons for striking jurors appeared dubious. The court granted certiorari [JURIST report] last May.