Supreme Court overturns death penalty in Louisiana case

Interesting split in the justices on this case.

In a 7-2 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court said the state trial judge erred when he allowed prosecutors to strike an African-American college student from the jury. Prosecutors said at the time that they thought the student worried too much about missing school to be an effective juror, but the court ruled that this justification was a pretext, noting that the murder trial lasted only two days.

Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University in New York, said that the decision highlights a growing interest within the court in the fairness of the death penalty. “This has been an unusual court in that it has been looking at a lot of death penalty [appeals],” she said.

For almost half a century, the Supreme Court has held that discrimination in jury pools is illegal. But as that jurisprudence has evolved, so have more sophisticated ways for prosecutors to evade the rule. The case Wednesday illustrated that the court expects judges to determine if a prosecutor is simply coming up with a pretext for striking a minority juror. And the justices showed in Snyder’s case that one phony reason for dismissing a juror can unravel an entire prosecution.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented from the opinion. Thomas wrote that the trial judge was in the best position to decide if the prosecutor was striking jurors in good faith.

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