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Should a history of prosecutor misconduct be considered on appeal?

by | Nov 13, 2018 | Criminal Appeals

Curtis Flowers was convicted of murdering the owner of a furniture store he once worked in, along with three employees. The alleged motive was revenge — the store owner had fired him and withheld most of his final paycheck to pay for merchandise he had supposedly damaged. He was sentenced to death.

Despite the fact that there was no physical or forensic evidence connecting him to the crime, Flowers was tried six times. Two trials ended with hung juries. Three convictions were overturned for prosecutorial misconduct.

The Montgomery County, Mississippi, prosecutor who tried Flowers is accused of intentionally and illegally keeping black people off the juries. In a landmark 1986 case called Batson v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court held that excluding jurors based on their race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Yet the prosecutor “relentlessly removed as many qualified African-American jurors as he could,” reads Flowers’ Supreme Court petition. “He struck all 10 African-Americans who came up for consideration during the first two trials, and he used all 26 of his allotted strikes against African-Americans at the third and fourth trials.”

In fact, in both the second and third trials against Flowers, judges specifically found racial bias in the prosecutor’s jury selection decisions.

American Public Media analyzed the prosecutor’s overall record for evidence of bias against black jurors. In 225 trials between 1992 and 2017, the journalists found, the prosecutor’s office struck 50 percent of eligible African-Americans off of juries, while striking only 11 percent of white jurors.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already heard one appeal from Flowers. After he complained that the prosecutor had only allowed a single qualified African-American on his jury, U.S. Supreme Court ordered the Mississippi Supreme Court to consider whether the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations for eliminating the black jurors were valid. The Mississippi Supreme Court reaffirmed the conviction.

Since then, the case against Flowers has further unraveled. All three jailhouse informants have recanted their testimony — one very publicly on American Pubic Media’s In the Dark podcast.

Flowers has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether a prosecutor’s proven history of racial bias in jury selection should be considered when challenging the jury selection in the latest case. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has only agreed to decide whether the Mississippi Supreme Court erred in reaffirming Flowers’ conviction.

Racial bias in jury selection is wrong. It prevents people with similar life experiences to the defendant from contributing their knowledge and expertise, and it removes potentially sympathetic jurors from the case for no good cause. It unfairly skews the case against the defendant and should never be tolerated.

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