Criminal Justice

Supreme Court Hears Case of Man Tried Six Times for Same Crime

The justices are considering if the prosecutor was racially biased in keeping African-Americans off the jury.

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Leah Millis/REUTERS/Newscom

One crime, six trials, three tossed convictions, two hung juries, a lot of prosecutorial misconduct, and a man on death row. Those are the dizzying statistics surrounding the case of Curtis Flowers, who is currently awaiting execution for a crime he says he did not commit.

Flowers has been tried six times for the 1996 slaying of four individuals in Winona, Mississippi. The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in his case last month, tasked with deciding if District Attorney Doug Evans discriminated against potential African-American jurors during Flowers' 2010 trial. Evans used his peremptory challenges—which strike would-be jurors without explanation—to exclude five out of six African-Americans from the final panel.

Racial diversity on juries can be pivotal in ensuring a fair trial, particularly in a community like Winona, where there are more black than white people. Naturally, a jury of Flowers' peers should reflect the surrounding area, providing an assortment of different life experiences to arrive at a fair verdict (plus, research shows diverse juries are better equipped to reach accurate conclusions).

Flowers' case is a prime example of that: The two trials resulting in hung juries had the greatest number of black jurors.

Evans has prosecuted each trial—spanning from 1997 to 2010—and has used 41 out of 42 peremptory challenges to block African-Americans from serving on the various juries. That move likely conflicts with Batson v. Kentucky, a 1986 Supreme Court precedent that prohibits barring a juror based on race alone. And it was Evans' long and troubled track record that seemed most likely to sway the justices in Flowers' favor.

"We can't take the history out of the case," Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh said.

Justice Elena Kagan outlined inconsistencies in Evans' questioning toward whites versus his inquiries toward blacks, calling the disparity "staggering." During jury selection in 2010, Evans asked 12 questions to the 11 white jurors who were ultimately impaneled, and asked 145 questions to the five prospective black jurors who were kept off the jury.

Kagan also highlighted a potential black juror named Carolyn Wright who was blocked from serving, even though she expressed support for the death penalty. Prosecutors are known for striking jurors who may not be able to come to an unbiased conclusion: In a capital murder trial—where the state seeks the death penalty—a would-be juror would be disqualified, then, if he or she had a moral opposition to the ultimate punishment. Wright did not, nor did she have ties to the Flowers family.

"Except for her race, you would think that this is a juror that a prosecutor would love when she walks in the door. Isn't she?" Kagan asked.

Evans has committed a slew of prosecutorial infractions, including the use of faulty testimony from Odell Harmon, a jailhouse snitch who falsely implicated Flowers after the state offered him a deal. He has since recanted. That drew mainstream outrage after the release of the second season of "In the Dark," a podcast profiling Flowers's jaw-dropping journey through the legal system.

But it isn't the Supreme Court's responsibility to render a verdict on Flowers' guilt, nor are Evans' other sketchy tactics under their current purview. Regardless, they seem poised to give Flowers yet another chance at justice—one that might ensure he secures a fair trial the seventh time around.

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42 responses to “Supreme Court Hears Case of Man Tried Six Times for Same Crime

  1. Well, we no longer have ‘peers’. We are all just folks, except for the elite socialists who need to actually run the country.
    So why not save thousands, maybe millions of dollars, and just form juries from the pool by splitting them up into groups of 12 plus alternates, and allocate them to cases by random lot? The only possible use of all the questioning and privacy violation of potential jurors is to tilt the jury, so get rid of it.

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  2. >>>Racial diversity on juries can be pivotal in ensuring a fair trial

    counter-intuitive. fair is colorblind.

    1. Right…Statistically, there should have been a proportion of black jurors on the panel equal to the proportion of the population if the prosecutor was color-blind and the jurors were color blind. Also the same number of questions should have been asked by the prosecutors of both black and white jurors if he was color-blind.

    2. Ordinarily I would agree. If a Hispanic is on trial, whether there are only 2 vs 4 Hispanics on the jury shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme.

      However, I read some of the details of this case. This prosecutor went WAY out of his way to remove as many blacks as possible from the jury pool. It was egregious how he went about it.

      1. >>>It was egregious how he went about it.

        oh i’m not arguing the blatant Batson violations i’m just picking on the author for instructing us on how to conduct a fair trial with Jury by Bennetton

    3. “Racial” is the problematic part — diversity is what counts — if everyone thinks the same way, they’ll never think outside the box. Especially if their background matches the prosecutor, they’ll never see past his shenanigans or just plain blindness.

  3. So, what is the evidence?

    The implication is that either the white jurors were swayed to convict because of race and and at least some black jurors were swayed to acquit based on race. Neither of which is a fair or just result.

    1. Ya know …. if it takes six trials to convict someone, I’d say the first five were more likely correct.

      1. He has been convicted 4 out of 6 trials with 2 inconclusive. Which result was the correct one?

        1. The four convictions would be more convincing if the prosecutor was not hell-bent on stacking the jury.

          1. That also has very little to do with whether or not he committed the crime. The first five trial results were not acquittals, they were null results.

            1. After so many failures, I would think at the very least, the prosecutor should be disbarred for incompetence.

              1. That is a fair assessment.

        2. Three of the convictions were tossed.

        3. Three of those convictions were tossed – so no, he wasn’t convicted in 4, only 1.

          1. Then none of the first five trials count, by that logic.

            There is no way to spin procedural mistrials as an aquittal.

  4. While i know nothing specific about this case, the disparity in the questioning of black potential jurors and white ones is certainly quite troubling.

    As for the linked research showing how diverse juries reach better conclusions than homogeneous ones, I would trust it more of the author didn’t capitalize “Black” and “White”, and if all-black juries were included in the comparison, along with all-white and racially mixed ones.

  5. All prosecutors are evil scumbags. That is all.

    1. Except Mueller, he’s to be a savior.

      /sarc

      1. Didn’t you get the memo? Mueller has been biased and incompetent for the past two weeks.

    2. You’re probably right, and it’s sad, given the fact that we really do need a justice system that goes after actual criminals, and there are quite a few of them.

    3. “All prosecutors are evil scumbags”

      This

    4. Kamala Harris hardest hit.

  6. The whole voir dire process is bullshit to me. If you fluently understand the language, live in the area, and are of a certain age, you’re eligible. After finding a pool of these eligible jurors and threatening them into serving the state, the jury should be randomly picked from the pool by lottery. If one juror gives the other jurors problems during deliberations, they can elect to have him replaced by an alternate, but that’s about it for the shuffling around.

    1. much easier.

      >>>threatening them into serving the state

      lol

    2. “”If one juror gives the other jurors problems during deliberations, they can elect to have him replaced by an alternate,”‘

      Like being the only one to vote not guilty?

    3. stop threatening people and take volunteers.

  7. “Naturally, a jury of Flowers’ peers should reflect the surrounding area, providing an assortment of different life experiences to arrive at a fair verdict”

    WTF?!

    A jury of one’s peers means that the guilt or innocence of a defendant in a criminal trial is determined by people who are not the government. The government can’t convict you of a crime unless you willingly waive your right to a jury. That is what is meant by the right to a jury of one’s peers. A jury of one’s peers is a jury that is not the government.

    Oh, and this “fairness” standard you’ve pulled out of your ass isn’t even the purpose of the criminal court system. The only legitimate purpose of government is to protect our rights. We have a military to protect our rights from foreign threats. We have police to protect our rights from criminals. The purpose of the criminal court system is to protect our rights from the police–not “fairness” by whatever is your favorite definition.

    If the courts were “fair”, the rights of victims would get more weight. Why presume innocence? Why not presume neither guilt nor innocence? Why not make the defendant take the stand and testify in his own defense? Why respect the right to remain silent or the right to an attorney? The purpose of the courts isn’t “fairness”. The purpose of the courts to protect the rights of the defendant–and that is exactly as it should be.

    1. Good comment.

    2. the police don’t protect our rights, they are there to stop family feuds from escalating forever.

      1. Top ten surveyed… good answer

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  9. If SCotUS sends this back and the prosecution wants to try again, they had better name a new prosecutor without the baggage this one has.

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  11. I say let defendants have juries made up entirely of people of the defendant’s race if they want. Prosecutors and judges as well. I think most people will do the right thing regardless of race, so let’s eliminate race as a variable.

  12. No link to the article about Clarence Thomas breaking his silence of over 3 years to ask a question in this case? The defense attorney only dismissed white jurors… What’s good for the goose…

    1. Not when the gander has vastly greater resources than the defendant. You equate state discrimination with a citizen’s defense strategy. You know, the state that champions diversity as its strength.

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