Confederate Flag Plays an Unusual Role in Death Penalty Appeal

Confederate Flag Plays an Unusual Role in Death Penalty Appeal

Lawyers argue that the Confederate flag unduly influenced a jury's makeup, resulting in the exclusion of Black jurors.

Published May 9, 2011

On Monday, the Louisiana Supreme Court will hear an unusual argument in an appeal to overturn the death penalty sentencing of Felton Dorsey, an African-American man who was convicted in 2009 for killing a white firefighter. Dorsey’s lawyers say that the Confederate flag that flies in front of the Caddo Parish Courthouse influenced the makeup of the jury, which included only one African-American. African-Americans comprise close to half of the parish’s population.


Carl Staples, an African-American who had been summoned for jury duty on the case, raised concerns about the flag during the selection process and believes that’s why he was dismissed.


“I indicated that they could not administer justice in a court of law when they have a symbol of one of the greatest injustices flying in front of the court,” Staples told the Shreveport Times.


Dorsey’s attorneys plan to argue that excluding African-Americans from the judicial process was unfair and that Dorsey should get a new trial. The American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP's Shreveport Chapter and legal scholars have filed an amicus brief supporting Dorsey’s claim.


“The Confederate flag is viewed by many people as a symbol of white supremacy and racism, and its presence outside the courthouse represents the legacy of lynching, terror and oppression of the African-American race,” said Anna Arceneaux, staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project. “Flying the flag outside the courthouse risks diminishing the trust of African-Americans in the criminal justice system and priming white jurors to view African-American defendants and victims as second-class citizens.”


The flag flies across many parts of the South. For many people it’s an offensive reminder of slavery, while others argue that it honors Southern heritage. Last month a decision by the board of commissioners in Dodge County, Georgia, to fly the flag outside of a courthouse drew protests. The flag was taken down at a courthouse in Palestine, Texas, following complaints.


(Photo: Richard Ellis/Getty)

Written by Joyce Jones


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