Death Penalty Convictions Challenged Based on Racist Statements

The law is blind to all but the facts and justice; at least that is the way it is supposed to work. Both our constitution and the integrity of our legal system depend on courts being blind to issues outside the courtroom, particularly when it comes to race.

Race should never enter the courtroom, but when it does, it is particularly egregious when it gets injected into cases that involve the death penalty. The United States Supreme Court may be set to hear an appeal of a death penalty conviction when this is just the question that will be addressed.

Juror’s Statements Show Racial Hostility

The case involves a man convicted of murder in Georgia all the way back in 1991. Many years after the conviction, the man’s attorney obtained an affidavit from one of the jurors who had convicted him specifically admitting that the man had racial hostility toward black people.

He also stated that he voted for conviction because he felt the victim and family were “nice black folks,” and the defendant “wasn’t in that category.” (this is perhaps the mildest thing he said—we will not repeat the harshest here).

The state contends that the former juror was intoxicated when he gave that statement, and that the man and his statements had been “misrepresented.”

Supreme Court Has Allowed These Challenges

Like many states, Georgia does not allow attorneys to overturn convictions based on what they learn are statements made by jurors in deliberations. Thus, there was little the defendant could do to ask for a new trial or at least a new sentencing. A Supreme Court case recently held that even when states have this restriction on questioning jurors or challenging convictions based on juror statements, those restrictions may be ignored when the statements that are allegedly made by jurors show racism or discrimination on race.

Using that decision, the defendant’s attorney challenged the death penalty sentence. The defendant still faced legal hurdles, however, because a federal court held that the case was not retroactive. That is, the new common law set by the Supreme Court could not be used to challenge convictions that happened in the past. The Court also held that there is no evidence that the juror’s racist beliefs actually influenced the jury.

The Supreme Court is now set to hear the case, to determine whether the man’s death penalty sentence will stand.

More Racist Statements in Texas Courts

Sadly, this is not the only incident of racism infecting criminal courts. The Supreme Court recently overturned a death penalty conviction of a Texas Defendant convicted with the help of the testimony of a prison psychiatrist who told a jury that the defendant would be more dangerous in the future because he was black.

After that testimony was brought forward, the Texas Attorney General overturned numerous convictions (or lessened sentences) that were based on the psychiatrist’s similar testimony, but left office before he could do the same for this defendant.

The defendant was forced to take the matter all the way to the Supreme Court. He eventually won and had his sentence commuted to life in prison based on a plea deal offered by the state.

Your trial must be fair and impartial, and you have a right to be tried only on the facts of your case. Contact the attorneys of Brassel Alexander, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your case if you are arrested in Maryland.

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