Supreme Court Rules Prosecutors Violated the Constitution by Excluding Black Jurors in Georgia Trial

On May 23, the U.S. Supreme Court set aside the conviction of Timothy Foster, a Georgia death row inmate, because the prosecution in the case systematically excluded all black prospective jurors from serving on Foster’s jury because of their race. The vote was 7 to 1, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting.

The majority found that the prosecution in Foster’s case had violated a 1986 decision in which the Supreme Court ruled that race-based discrimination in jury selection was unconstitutional and required prosecutors accused of it to provide an alternative, nondiscriminatory explanation. Last August, eight prominent former trial prosecutors submitted a friend-of-the-court brief organized by TCP supporting Foster’s claims.

Foster, a black, intellectually-limited man who was 18 years old at the time he was accused of killing a white, elderly woman, was found guilty and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in 1987. Twenty years later, following an open records request, Foster’s lawyers at the Southern Center for Human Rights finally received the prosecution’s jury selection notes, which revealed that black citizens were indeed identified by race and systematically excluded from the jury.

The brief from the former prosecutors was highlighted prominently in stories about the case in the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal and on NPR and CNN. One of the prosecutors, former Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush, Larry D. Thompson (also a member of TCP’s Right to Counsel Committee), authored an opinion piece which appeared in the New York Times. Another of the prosecutors, Glenn Ivey, was featured in a Slate podcast.

The case is Foster v Chatman, No. 14-8349. Jenner & Block provided pro bono assistance in drafting the friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the former prosecutors.

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