Alabama Supreme Court Sends Back Death Penalty Case Tried by All-White Jury

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On September 28, 2012, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case of Christopher Floyd, who was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Houston County, Alabama, because the lower courts failed to properly determine whether the prosecutor illegally discriminated against African American jurors.

The Houston County District Attorney's office has an established history of exercising peremptory strikes in a discriminatory fashion. EJI has documented that, from 2005-2009, 80% of the African Americans qualified for jury service were excluded by Houston County prosecutors in death penalty cases. As a result, half of these juries were all-white and the remainder had only a single black member, despite the fact that Houston County is 27% African-American.

The Houston County prosecutor at Mr. Floyd's trial used peremptory strikes to remove 10 of the 11 African Americans qualified to serve on the jury. The prosecutor also used 12 of his 18 strikes to bar women from jury service. EJI attorneys argued on appeal that the prosecutor's strikes raised a compelling inference of racial discrimination, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals agreed, sending the case back to the trial court to determine if the prosecutor could provide valid, race-neutral reasons for striking nearly all of the African American jurors.

The trial court, however, failed to require the prosecutor to show his strikes were not based on race, instead expressing the incorrect belief that the law prohibiting racial discrimination against jurors depends on the race of the defendant. The trial court denied Mr. Floyd's claim even though the prosecutor gave no reasons at all for striking two jurors. The appellate court upheld the trial court's decision by supplying its own reasons for the State's strikes.

On appeal, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the trial court failed to fulfill its duty to determine whether the State provided nondiscriminatory reasons for using its peremptory strikes to remove African Americans and women from the jury. Further, it held that the Court of Criminal Appeals acted improperly in supplying its own reasons for the prosecutor's removal of two jurors. The court reversed the lower court's decision and sent the case back again for the trial court to make specific findings under the correct legal standard.