Flowers v. Mississippi

Flowers v. Mississippi, No. 17–9572, 588 U.S. ___ (2019), was a United States Supreme Court case regarding the use of peremptory challenges to remove black jurors during a series of Mississippi criminal trials. Previously the U.S. Supreme Court held in Batson v. Kentucky that the use of peremptory challenges solely on the basis of race is unconstitutional. This case examined whether the Mississippi Supreme Court erred in how it applied Batson to this case.[1]

Flowers v. Mississippi
Argued March 20, 2019
Decided June 21, 2019
Full case nameCurtis Giovanni Flowers, Petitioner v. Mississippi
Docket no.17–9572
Citations588 U.S. ___ (more)
Case history
PriorConvictions reversed, 773 So. 2d 309 (2000); 947 So. 2d 910 , 935 (2007); conviction and death sentence affirmed, 158 So. 3d 1009 (Miss. 2014); vacated and remanded, 136 S. Ct. 2157 (2016); conviction and sentence affirmed, 240 So. 3d 1082 (Miss. 2017); cert. granted, 139 S. Ct. 451 (2018).
Court membership
Chief Justice
John Roberts
Associate Justices
Clarence Thomas · Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Stephen Breyer · Samuel Alito
Sonia Sotomayor · Elena Kagan
Neil Gorsuch · Brett Kavanaugh
Case opinions
MajorityKavanaugh, joined by Roberts, Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan
ConcurrenceAlito
DissentThomas, joined by Gorsuch (parts I, II, III)

Case background

Curtis Flowers was accused in 1996 of four murders in a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi. Since his arrest, Flowers has seen six separate jury trials. The first three trials ended with overturned convictions from the Mississippi Supreme Court on review, citing prosecutorial misconduct in all three trials, while the fourth and fifth ended in a mistrial. At issue throughout these trials was the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges to eliminate prospective African-Americans from the jury, leaving a solely white jury despite the population distribution near Winona being near 50% white, 50% African-American. Only by the fourth trial did two African-Americans sit on the jury, resulting in a hung jury.

The sixth trial, held in 2010, found Flowers guilty of all four crimes, and was sentenced to death. The jury here was formed from one African-American juror - the first one questioned by the prosecutor who subsequently used his remaining peremptory challenges to dismiss five additional African-American jurors. Flowers appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court again arguing on the peremptory challenges. The Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Flowers petitioned to the United States Supreme Court, who summarily remanded the case to the Mississippi Supreme Court and told the court to review the peremptory challenge under the Batson challenge established in the case Batson v. Kentucky. On review, the Mississippi Supreme Court still found against Flowers, ruling that the prosecutor was not racially biased in the use of peremptory challenges during Flowers' trial. One aspect that was argued in this retrial was the past behavior in the previous trials that Flowers' defense felt showed a clear racial discrimination pattern by the prosecution to remove African-American jurors from the jury, but which the Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed in their Batson analysis.

Flowers re-petitioned to the US Supreme Court, which granted certiorari to the case in November 2018. The case was limited to the question of whether the Mississippi's oversight of the prosecution's past use of peremptory challenges in Flowers' prior trials was proper within the scope of the Batson challenge. Oral arguments were heard on March 20, 2019.

Opinions

Majority opinion by Brett Kavanaugh

On June 21, 2019, in a 7–2 decision authored by Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the Court held that the Flowers case clearly fell under Batson and the Mississippi Supreme Court erred in upholding the trial court's conviction.[2] In its history of 6 trials prosecuting Flowers for murder, the previous 5 of which ended in mistrials or vacated convictions, the state struck 41 of the 42 prospective black jurors.[3] Some of the selected white jurors had similar answers to struck black jurors and when the prosecutor was asked for explanations other than race for excluding the jurors, the prosecutor also gave inaccurate or provably false explanations for excluding black jurors.[4]

Concurrence by Samuel Alito

Samuel Alito wrote a concurrence. Alito stated that he believes this was “a highly unusual case” that was likely “one of a kind.” Alito also stated that this was “not an ordinary case, and the jury selection process cannot be analyzed as if it were.”[1]

Dissent by Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas wrote the dissenting opinion, which was joined in part by Neil Gorsuch, stating that they would have upheld Flowers’ conviction. Thomas suggested that the prosecution's use of their peremptory challenge were appropriate as most of these dismissed knew of Flowers and his family and thus would be biased on a jury.[5] Thomas’ opinion suggests Batson v. Kentucky (1986), which forbids prosecutors from using race as a factor in making peremptory challenges in jury selection, was wrongly decided and should be overruled. Gorsuch, however, did not join the section of Thomas’ opinion suggesting Batson should be overruled.[1]

See also

References

  1. Flowers v. Mississippi, No. 17-9572, 588 U.S. ___ (2019).
  2. Stern, Mark Joseph (21 June 2019). "Brett Kavanaugh's Latest Opinion Protects Black Defendants Against Racist Prosecutors". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 21 June 2019.
  3. Press, Associated (2019-06-22). "Curtis Flowers' conviction overturned over removal of black jurors". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  4. Liptak, Adam (2019-06-21). "Excluding Black Jurors in Curtis Flowers Case Violated Constitution, Supreme Court Rules". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-22.
  5. Savage, David (June 21, 2019). "Curtis Flowers murder conviction is overturned. Supreme Court cites bias against black defendant in Mississippi". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
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