Justices Reject Alabama Death-Penalty Case Involving Jury Selection

(CN) — Despite “serious concerns” cited by one justice, the Supreme Court said Monday it will not take up an Alabama death penalty case in which attorneys said black jurors were improperly excluded from the condemned man’s jury.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor ultimately agreed with the decision not to take up the case, explaining in a brief statement which Justice Stephen Breyer joined that “unusual posture” in which the claims were raised in a petition for a writ of certiorari made it unsuitable for review.

But she clearly was troubled the jury selection process in the trial of petitioner Christopher Floyd, who was sentenced to die in 2005 in the 1992 shooting death of Waylon Crawford during the robbery of a convenience store.

Sotomayor said that the during the voir dire, “the Houston County District Attorney’s Office exercised peremptory challenges against 10 out of 11 qualified African-American venire members, and used 12 of its 18 strikes against women.

“The prosecutor also marked the letter ‘”B,” as in black,’ next to the name of each potential African-American juror,” the justice continued. “If these facts sound familiar, it is because they are remarkably similar to those in (Foster v. Chatman), where we concluded that peremptory strikes of jurors ‘were “motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.”‘”

Sotomayor went on to note that prosecutors’ attempts to provide race-neutral explanations for two of those juror disqualifications “failed to withstand scrutiny.”

The justice said although Floyd’s framing of the arguments in his petition undercut his request for review, in any other context “courts reviewing claims in circumstances like these must be steadfast in identifying, investigating, and correcting for improper bias in the jury selection process.”

In 2015, the Alabama Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that says prosecutors properly explained their reasons from excluding potential black jurors from serving.

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