On September 5, the Constitution Project filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in support of Allen Snyder, who was convicted and sentenced to death in Louisiana in August, 1996. Our brief emphasizes the “unusual, unethical, and unconstitutional nature of the prosecutor’s conduct in the case, beginning with his comments to the media comparing Mr. Snyder to O.J. Simpson, and culminating in his rebuttal penalty phase argument referencing the O.J. Simpson case and implicitly urging the jury not to let Mr. Snyder ‘g[e]t away with it’ like O.J. Simpson did.”
O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murder just two months after Mr. Snyder’s arrest. Our brief concludes that this “provocative and impermissible conduct was powerful evidence of the prosecutor’s discriminatory intent to use his peremptory challenges to purge Mr. Snyder’s capital jury of all African Americans,” in violation of the Supreme Court’s 1986 ruling in Batson v. Kentucky. In “Mandatory Justice: The Death Penalty Revisited,” our Death Penalty Committee concluded that “the issues of racial neutrality, fairness, and public confidence that racial discrimination plays no role in the [life and death] decisions . . . are among the most important confronting the death penalty system,” that “to help ensure that racial discrimination plays no role in [a jurisdiction’s] capital punishment system, and to thereby enhance public confidence in the system, “members of all races [should be brought] into every level of the decision-making process,” and that “efforts should be redoubled,” by “vigorously enforcing Batson … to ensure that members of all races are part of . . . petit juries that decide guilt and punishment.” The brief also relies on the Committee’s recommendation that “prosecutors uphold their constitutional responsibilities, including their duty to “seek justice” and adhere to the highest professional standards.
We are grateful to Elisabeth Semel and her colleagues at the Death Penalty Clinic at the Berkeley Law School at the University of California, and to former Solicitor General Seth Waxman and his colleagues at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, who represented us in this case.