Prof. J. Amy Dillard on race discrimination in jury selection

Professor J. Amy Dillard got a shout-out today in Scotusblog’s weekly roundup for an article she contributed to Casetext about Foster v. Chatman.

At issue in the case before the Supreme Court is whether Georgia courts erred in failing to recognize race discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky (1986) in a death-penalty case. Batson prohibits the use of peremptory strikes on the basis of race during jury selection — which, Dillard writes, has led to three decades of prosecutors hiding racist motivations in jury selection “behind vague, race-neutral justifications.”

In the trial of Timothy Tyrone Foster, a young black man charged with murdering an elderly white woman, the prosecutor used peremptory strikes against all four of the qualified black jurors. After the defense objected, the prosecution offered “race-neutral” explanations for the strikes, which were accepted by the trial court. Foster was convicted of murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in 1987.

The prosecutor’s personal notes from voir dire and jury selection are available as part of the court record and reveal, Dillard writes, “the pretext of his implausible explanations for striking all four black jurors from the pool.”

“In stark black and white, his notes reveal his overt racial motivations for striking the four black jurors,” Dillard writes in “Foster v. Chatman: A Stark Example of How Prosecutors Evade Batson.” Dillard added that the prosecutor in his notes identified the black jurors with a “B,” placed them on a list of definite “nos” and ranked them in case he had to put one black juror in the box.

This portion of the prosecutor’s notes from voir dire and jury selection is reproduced in Dillard’s Casetext article.

“That the prosecutor kept these race-based notes bespeaks a frightening hubris about the widely accepted function of racism in criminal prosecutions,” Dillard writes.

Concluded Dillard: “[A] bogus race-neutral explanation will never become a value-neutral judgment about a prospective juror of color unless this Court sets out a new, meaningful Batson rule.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Foster v. Chatman on Nov. 2.

Learn more about Professor Dillard.

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