U.S. Supreme Court Lets Stand Finding of Racial Bias in Alabama Jury Selection

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On November 13, 2012, the United States Supreme Court denied the State of Alabama's petition challenging a federal appellate court decision which found that the prosecutor's racially biased selection of jurors for Vernon Madison's capital trial required further review.

At Mr. Madison's trial, the prosecutor removed from the jury six of the 13 African Americans who were eligible for jury service. That the prosecutor removed nearly half of the qualified black jurors was significant because the same prosecutor's office was found to have engaged in racially discriminatory jury selection previsously -- at Mr. Madison's first trial and in other cases. Mr. Madison was sentenced to death.

In addition, this is a case of a black defendant who was accused of killing a white police officer. It was also noteworthy that the prosecutor did not ask any questions to three of the African American jurors he removed.

EJI challenged the jury selection on appeal. Initially, the trial court and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals found there was not an inference of discrimination in the case. On April 27, 2012, however, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with EJI and found that Mr. Madison "present[ed] several relevant circumstances that in sum were sufficient to raise an inference of discrimination." The court remanded for the prosecution to explain its strikes.

The State of Alabama asked the Supreme Court to reverse the Eleventh Circuit's decision. EJI filed a brief opposing the State's petition for review and the Court denied review on November 13, 2012. As a result, the federal trial court will now determine whether a new trial is required because of the State's discriminatory jury selection.