On Monday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Foster v. Chatman, a case involving the exclusion of black citizens from juries in a death penalty case. The case comes almost thirty years after Batson v. Kentucky, where the Supreme Court prohibited striking a juror based on race.
At issue in this case is the 1987 trial of Timothy Foster, an 18-year-old poor, black, developmentally delayed man accused of murdering an 80-year-old white woman. Yesterday’s Supreme Court arguments were specifically focused on the jury selection process in Foster’s case, where the prosecution struck 100 percent of the black jurors.
At the time, the total exclusion of black jurors was challenged by Foster’s lawyers as a violation of Batson, but prosecutors presented reasoning for each juror strike. It
weak reasoning—the potential juror didn’t keep eye contact, looked bored, was a social worker, and other random minor infractions—but it was reasoning nonetheless, and under Batson it was sufficient. The defense requested to see the prosecution’s notes from jury selection to confirm that race didn’t influence why selected jurors were dismissed, but the prosecution didn’t want to turn them over, and the courts didn’t make them.
Foster was convicted and sentenced to death. During the trial, the prosecution asked the jury to give Foster the death penalty in order to “deter other people out there in the projects.”
Fast forward twenty years to 2006, when Foster’s attorneys decide to use the state’s Open Records Act to get a hold of the prosecution’s notes. According to Slate:
The notes showed that every prospective black juror’s name had been flagged in green highlighter. They were identified as “B#1,” “B#2,” and “B#3,” and the notes mentioned which person to keep “in case it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors.” The first four names on a handwritten list titled “Definite NOs” were those of the black jurors who were struck.
See more below the fold.