Court overturns death row conviction

The Supreme Court, in the first opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito this term, today reversed the conviction of a black Louisiana death row man who appealed the prosecutor’s use of peremptory strikes to remove all the black jurors from his trial. The opinion, Snyder v. Louisiana, can be found here. [PDF file]

Allen Snyder was convicted of stabbing his estranged wife and her male companion, killing the man. The prosecutor in the case struck five black jurors, resulting in an all-white jury. In the case of one juror, the prosecutor claimed he was removed because he expressed concern about missing work at a school, although the school’s dean was called and assured the court that missing a few days wouldn’t be a problem.

Evaluating the case under the standard established in the Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky, Alito wrote of the prosecutor’s reason for striking this juror: “the implausibility of his explanation is reinforced by the prosecutor’s acceptance of white jurors who disclosed conflicting obligations that appear to have been at least as serious as” that of the back juror.

The decision was not entirely surprising, given the comments from the justices during oral arguments in the case that suggested the prosecutor sought to inflame racial tensions by mentioning the O.J. Simpson trial, and hinted that the trial court seemed to be asleep at the wheel during all of it.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a dissent, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing that the Court should not substitute its own judgment for that of the trial court, which should be given strong deference.

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