Posted March 20, 2008 – The U.S. Supreme Court spared the life of a condemned inmate Wednesday, ruling that a Louisiana prosecutor prejudiced White jurors against a Black defendant by comparing him to O.J. Simpson while the trial judge looked away.
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The Jefferson Parish, La. , judge “committed clear error” when he allowed prosecutor James A. Williams to exclude all Blacks in the jury pool for the trial of Allen Snyder 12 years ago, the high court found. Snyder, a Black man, was convicted of stabbing to death a man who was dating his ex-wife and wounding her.
Then, during the sentencing phase, the same prosecutor referred to the trial as his “O.J. Simpson case,” noting that the circumstances were “very, very similar” to those involving the famous football player. Famed civil rights attorney Stephen Bright, representing Snyder, said, "I hope that, as a result of this decision, juries will be more representative of their communities."
In Jefferson Parish, almost one in four people is an African American, but studies show that a preponderance of death-penalty cases are decided by White juries, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Excluding Blacks from juries is unconstitutional, because it violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law, a concept that the court has upheld in numerous instances. In Louisiana, both prosecutors and defense attorneys can exclude up to 12 jurors for any reason. In the case of Snyder, the Times reports, all five prospective Black jurors were nixed by the prosecutor. The Louisiana Supreme Court, by a 4-3 margin, had upheld Snyder’s conviction.
But according to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., the prosecutor’s reasoning for excluding the Blacks did not make sense, saying that the prosecutor was apparently "motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent." Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia dissented. Prosecutors can decide to retry Snyder if they choose.
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