The US Supreme Court is really getting quite extraordinarily testy with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the 5th Circuit, at least when it comes to death penalty cases.
The Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a black death row inmate who said Texas prosecutors unfairly stacked his jury with whites, issuing a harsh rebuke to the state that executes more people than any other.
The 6-3 ruling today ordered a new trial for Thomas Miller-El, who challenged his conviction for the 1985 murder of a 25-year-old Dallas motel clerk. It was the second time justices reviewed the case after a lower court refused to reconsider Miller-El's claims.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was wrong to reaffirm the conviction by a state court in light of the strong evidence of prejudice during jury selection, justices said.
The state court's conclusion that the prosecutors' strikes of people from the jury pool was "not racially determined is shown up as wrong to a clear and convincing degree; the state court's conclusion was unreasonable as well as erroneous," Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.
In the opinion, Souter noted that black jurors were questioned more aggressively about the death penalty, and the pool was "shuffled" at least twice by prosecutors, apparently to increase the chances whites would be selected.
He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer....
Something of a side note: Texas has recently passed a "life without parole" statute, thus giving jurors another option, so it's likely that fewer of these cases will make it out of the state courts and into the Supreme Court's lap. Mind, it's not that the Texas courts are likely to mend their ways; it's that you get fewer appeals of right for noncapital convictions.Posted by iain at June 13, 2005 12:33 PM