Petitioner Curtis Flowers has been tried six separate times for the murder of four employees of a


Petitioner Curtis Flowers has been tried six separate times for the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store. Flowers is black; three of the four victims were white. At the first two trials, the State used its peremptory strikes on all of the qualified black prospective jurors. In each case, the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death, but the convictions were later reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court based on prosecutorial misconduct. At the third trial, the State used all of its 15 peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors, and the jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed again, this time concluding that the State exercised its peremptory strikes on the basis of race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79. Flowers’ fourth and fifth trials ended in mistrials. At the fourth, the State exercised 11 peremptory strikes—all against black prospective jurors. No available racial information exists about the prospective jurors in the fifth trial. At the sixth trial, the State exercised six peremptory strikes—five against black prospective jurors, allowing one black juror to be seated. Flowers re-petitioned his case to the Supreme Court.   

JUSTICE KAVANAUGH Here, our review of the history of the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes in Flowers’ first four trials strongly supports the conclusion that his use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent. (Recall that there is no record evidence from the fifth trial regarding the race of the prospective jurors.) Stretching across Flowers’ first four trials, the State employed its peremptory strikes to remove as many black prospective jurors as possible. The State appeared to proceed as if Batson had never been decided. The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury. The trial judge was aware of the history. But the judge did not sufficiently account for the history when considering Flowers’ Batson claim. The State’s actions in the first four trials necessarily inform our assessment of the State’s intent going into Flowers’ sixth trial. We cannot ignore that history. We cannot take that history out of the case.
The State’s use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial followed the same pattern as the first four trials, with one modest exception: It is true that the State accepted one black juror for Flowers’ sixth trial. But especially given the history of the case, that fact alone cannot insulate the State from a Batson challenge. In Miller-El II, this Court skeptically viewed the State’s decision to accept one black juror, explaining that a prosecutor might do so in an attempt “to obscure the otherwise consistent pattern of opposition to “seating black jurors. The overall record of this case suggests that the same tactic may have been employed here. In light of all of the circumstances here, the State’s decision to strike five of the six black prospective jurors is further evidence suggesting that the State was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.
In sum, the State’s pattern of striking black prospective jurors persisted from Flowers’ first trial through Flowers’ sixth trial. In the six trials combined, the State struck 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors it could have struck. At the sixth trial, the State struck five of six. At the sixth trial, moreover, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors. In reaching [these conclusions], we break no new legal ground. We simply enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it to the extraordinary facts of this case. REVERSED and REMANDED in favor of the plaintiff.

The Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky provided a three-step process for determining when a strike is discriminatory: “First, a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a peremptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race; second, if that showing has been made, the prosecution must offer a raceneutral basis for striking the juror in question; and third, in light of the parties’ submissions, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination.” What possible problems might arise that prevent a court from rightfully determining a strike is discriminatory as happened in this case? What changes would you make to the three-step process to prevent further transgressions?
Which values does this decision tend to emphasize?

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Dynamic Business Law

ISBN: 9781260733976

6th Edition

Authors: Nancy Kubasek, M. Neil Browne, Daniel Herron, Lucien Dhooge, Linda Barkacs

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