The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in Flowers v. Mississippi, in which the state was alleged to have improperly dismissed African American jurors.
The petitioner, Curtis Flowers, was convicted of a capital offense in 2010 and appealed his death penalty conviction on the grounds of racial discrimination. The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the sentence.
At oral argument, the Flowers’ attorney said, “The only plausible interpretation of all of the evidence viewed cumulatively is that [District Attorney] Doug Evans began jury selection … with an unconstitutional end in mind, to seat as few African American jurors as he could.”
The petitioner said that in the first four Flowers trials the district attorney challenged 36 jurors, who were all African American. During a later trial, five out of six of the jurors he challenged were African American. He also allegedly questioned African American jurors more aggressively than white jurors. The petitioner argued, “Mr. Evans was twice found to have discriminated on the basis of race in the exercise of his peremptory challenges against African American defendants in trials of the same case against the same defendant.”
The petitioner argued that since the prosecutor was found to have racially discriminated during Flowers’ earlier trials, he should have been barred from exercising preliminary strikes.
The respondent argued that there were permissible reasons for striking 41 of the 42 African American jurors because the jurors had known the defendant or his family. The respondent’s brief argued that the Mississippi Supreme Court correctly applied the “clearly erroneous” standard when evaluating the trial court’s decision that the jurors had been properly dismissed.