The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning to overturn the death sentence of Timothy Tyrone Foster, a black man who was convicted of murdering a white woman in Georgia in 1987. Prosecutors struck all four black prospective jurors during selection for Foster’s case, leaving him with an entirely white jury deciding his fate.
The court ruled 7-1 in Foster’s favor. Writing the court’s majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the prosecutors’ motion to strike the black jurors was “motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Through a Georgia Open Records Act request, Foster and his legal team compiled a compelling body of evidence that the jury selection in his case was in fact racially motivated. On a list of potential jurors, prosecutors had highlighted the black candidates’ names in green, with a legend showing that the highlight “represents black.” An affidavit Foster obtained showed an investigator writing about one potential juror, “If it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors, [this one] might be okay.” A document about the church one prospective juror attended contained a note reading “NO. No Black Church.”
The court’s decision will likely grant Foster a new trial, the Associated Press reports, but it will not affect prosecutors’ ability to use personal discretion when selecting jurors. In 1986, one year before Foster’s conviction and sentencing, Thurgood Marshall warned that such discretion could and would lead to discrimination. “The decision today will not end the racial discrimination that peremptories inject into the jury-selection process,” Marshall wrote regarding Batson v. Kentucky, SCOTUS decision banning racial discrimination in jury selection. “That goal can be accomplished only by eliminating peremptory challenges entirely.”