Monday, June 13, 2005

Half a loaf, huh?

Apparently racism in the application of the death penalty is still okay, but racism in the selection of jurors for death penalty cases is verboten.

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black death row inmate who said Texas prosecutors unfairly stacked his jury with whites, issuing a harsh rebuke to the state that executes more people than any other.

The 6-3 ruling Monday ordered a new trial for Thomas Miller-El, who challenged his conviction for the 1985 murder of a 25-year-old Dallas motel clerk. It was the second time justices reviewed the case after a lower court refused to reconsider Miller-El's claims.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was wrong to reaffirm the conviction by a state court in light of the strong evidence of prejudice during jury selection, justices said.

The state court's conclusion that the prosecutors' strikes of people from the jury pool was ''not racially determined is shown up as wrong to a clear and convincing degree; the state court's conclusion was unreasonable as well as erroneous,'' Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.

In the opinion, Souter noted that black jurors were questioned more aggressively about the death penalty, and the pool was ''shuffled'' at least twice by prosecutors, apparently to increase the chances whites would be selected.

He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.

''The prosecutors' chosen race-neutral reasons for the strikes do not hold up and are so far at odds with the evidence that pretext is the fair conclusion, indicating the very discrimination the explanations were meant to deny,'' Souter wrote.

''At least two of the jury shuffles conducted by the state make no sense except as efforts to delay consideration of black jury panelists,'' Souter said, adding that it ''blinks reality'' to deny jurors were struck because they were black.

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