Supreme Court

Sotomayor Rebukes Federal Prosecutor's Racial Trial Remarks

Prosecutor used race of people to suggest likelihood of a drug deal


Justice Sonia Sotomayor strongly objected Monday to a Texas prosecutor's reference to the race of the defendants as an argument to convince a jury they were involved in a drug deal.

The high court refused to hear the case of Bongani Calhoun, a black defendant who was convicted in the drug case, but Sotomayor wrote an unusual statement to "dispel any doubt" that turning away his appeal would "signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor's racially charged remark. It should not."

Calhoun was arrested with several other men and charged with taking part in a drug conspiracy. He contended that while he went along on a road trip with friends, he did not know they planned to buy cocaine.

The prosecutor told the jury that the men were together in a hotel room. "You've got African Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you—a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, 'This is a drug deal'?"