Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Death Penalty Overturned Because of Race Issues

Justices Overturn Verdict, Cite Race

Blacks Were Unjustly Kept off Texas Jury in '86 Death Row Case

By Charles Lane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 14, 2005; A01

The Supreme Court made an expected but emphatic statement in favor of race-neutral justice yesterday, overturning the 1986 conviction of a black death row inmate because his trial in Dallas was tainted by government racial discrimination.

By a vote of 6 to 3, the court held that both state and federal judges who oversee capital cases in Texas had mistakenly discounted evidence showing that prosecutors wrongfully kept African Americans off the Dallas jury that found Thomas Joe Miller-El guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. Only one member of the jury was black.

Writing for the court, Justice David H. Souter noted that Dallas County prosecutors had objected to two prospective black jurors who were otherwise similar to two whites. The prosecutors had also used "trickery" in questioning would-be jurors and exercised their right under Texas law to "shuffle" the jury pool, moving blacks to the back of the line, Souter wrote. All told, 10 of 11 eligible blacks were excluded.

Souter added that the Dallas County district attorney's office had, in the years before the Miller-El trial, used a training manual that coached prosecutors to strike black, Jewish and Hispanic jurors because they would be too sympathetic to defendants.

"It is true, of course, that at some points the significance of Miller-El's evidence is open to judgment calls," Souter wrote, "but when this evidence on the issues raised is viewed cumulatively its direction is too powerful to conclude anything but discrimination." [...]

Aside from the philosophical, theological and humanist arguments against the death penalty, if you are going to have a death penaly, you'd better have an air-tight system that guarantees that the convicted are indeed guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt in the eyes of the law. The death penaly cannot be just if it is 97% correct. Now, death penalty lovers on the other side of the aisle may say, why ditch the death penaly, we can fix the systemic problems? My answer is, no we can't. We can't solve the race or hate problems that lead to these injustices, for which reason we can't make the application of the death penalty just.

Another problem here is what we saw in Maryland. Black murderers of white victims were far more likely to get executed than white murderers of black victims or white victims. Also, some counties, predominantly white counties were putting people to death, more black than not, when in similar cases other counties would give these people life imprisonment. That simply cannot be just. To say that the county line would determine one's fate is absurd.


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