Case of Mississippi prosecutor who routinely kicked black people off juries heads to Supreme Court
Mississippi state prosecutor Doug Evans worked for more than thirteen years to send Curtis Flowers to jail. After the 1996 murders of four people in Winona, Mississippi, Flowers was tried by Evans a whopping six times until Evans finally got a conviction that stuck in 2010. Flowers, a black man, was an employee at the furniture store where the murders took place. He had no criminal record, and there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime. No witnesses placed him at the scene. So it’s a wonder where Evans’ evidence came from. One thing that is known, however, is that as part of his trial strategy, Evans made sure that black prospective jurors were excluded as much as possible. And now the Supreme Court will consider whether or not Evans’ use of several peremptory challenges to exclude the potential jurors represents a violation of the Constitution.
As Adam Liptak writes in the New York Times, peremptory challenges do not require a reason. They are discretionary and aren’t to be second-guessed. However, Batson v. Kentucky, a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1986, ruled that racial discrimination during jury selection is an exception to this. Lawyers who are accused of it must provide an explanation for their peremptory challenges that is nondiscriminatory.
Upon first glance, it seems that Evans will face an uphill battle in proving that he was not actively and intentionally excluding blacks from the potential juror pool. In the first two trials against Flowers, he struck all ten potential black jurors (there were five for each trial). The first trial resulted in a white jury that produced a conviction and death sentence for Flowers. But the state’s Supreme Court overturned that conviction on the grounds of “numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct” that were apparently unrelated to jury selection.