SCOTUS to Decide if Race Motivated Juror Strikes

     (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to decide whether Georgia courts unfairly ignored a black death-row inmate’s claims that prosecutors struck prospective jurors on the basis of race.
     In 1987, a jury convicted Timothy Tyrone Foster for the robbery and murder of a white victim and sentenced him to death.
     At the trial level and all the way up to the Georgia Supreme Court, however, Foster argued that prosecutors struck all four black prospective jurors – providing numerous “race-neutral” reasons for doing so.
     During habeas proceedings, Foster obtained the prosecution’s notes from jury selection, which included the names of the black jurors highlighted in green marker and the word “black” circled on juror questionnaires of five black prospective jurors.
     Prosecutors also identified three black prospective jurors as “B#1,” “B#2,” and “B#3” and ranked them against each other in the event “it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors,” according to the notes obtained by Foster.
     The prosecution’s strike lists also contradicted their race-neutral explanation for striking one of the prospective jurors, yet the Georgia courts in each case declined to find race discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky and denied Foster’s habeas petitions.
     Additionally, the prosecutor also argued during the penalty phase that the jury should impose a death sentence to “deter other people out there in the projects.”
     The Georgia courts “failed to give a meaningful consideration to ‘all relevant circumstances’ as Batson requires,” Foster’s petition to the U.S. Supreme Court stated.
     “Neither of those courts had access to the prosecution’s notes from jury selection, which demonstrate an explicit focus on race,” the petition said. “By deferring to the prior rulings-which were based on a fraction of the evidence now available-the state habeas court necessarily failed to give full consideration to ‘all relevant circumstances’ as required by Batson.”
     Foster discovered the prosecution’s jury-selection notes through a public-records request in 2006.
     Georgia’s habeas court denied Foster’s request in 2013, finding the man had “failed to demonstrate purposeful discrimination on the basis of race” through the prosecution’s notes.
     The state’s high court refused to hear the habeas appeal in 2014.
     On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Foster’s petition for writ of certiorari – to answer the question “Did the Georgia courts err in failing to recognize race discrimination under Batson in the extraordinary circumstances of this death penalty case?” – without further comment per its usual custom.

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