Out of the Shadows: Peremptory Juror Strikes At Issue in Flowers v. Mississippi

The exterior of the U.S. Supreme Court building with white stone columns and a white facade.On June 20, 2019, the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Curtis Flowers.  The most recent appeal marks the sixth time that Mr. Flowers has been tried for charges arising from a quadruple homicide that occurred at the Tardy Furniture Store in Winona, Mississippi.  Mr. Flowers has been incarcerated for over 20 years, as he awaits trial.  Throughout this time, Mr. Flowers has consistently maintained his innocence. By way of background, Mr. Flowers is black.  Douglas Evans, the prosecuting attorney of all six trials, is white.

APM’s investigative podcast titled In the Dark conducted an in-depth analysis of the case.  The podcast explores the nature of the circumstantial evidence that the prosecution relied upon.  It scrutinizes the methodology of the investigating officers and explores alternative innocent interpretations of the evidence proffered.  But, for the purpose of the appeal, sufficiency of evidence is not at issue.  The narrator, Madeleine Baran, explains that “we’ve talked to hundreds of people who live in this part of Mississippi and it’s clear that the way people think about the Curtis Flowers case for the most part depends on whether they are white or black.”  And it is the issue of race, which is at the heart of the appeal recently decided by the United States Supreme Court. (more…)

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Racial Discrimination in Wisconsin Jury Pool Practices

A courtroom is filled with women dressed in long black dresses and wearing hats.
Crowd of women register for jury duty after gaining the right to vote, Portland, Oregon, 1912.

“It requires little knowledge of human nature to anticipate that those who had long been regarded as an inferior and subject race would, when suddenly raised to the rank of citizenship, be looked upon with jealousy and positive dislike, and that state laws might be enacted or enforced to perpetuate the distinctions that had before existed.” – Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 306 (1879)

As ominously foreshadowed by the Supreme Court in 1879, current state and federal laws and practices continuously present disadvantages to people of color. Removed from enslavement and the oppressive nature of the Jim Crow Era, today many of the participants in our justice system and in politics are blind to discrepancies within this nation’s criminal justice system and erroneously believe that the black defendant enjoys the same rights as the white defendant.  The black defendant is seldom given a jury that racially represents him or her, and this lack of representation is a product of case precedent, judicial reasoning, and discriminatory practices. In Wisconsin, these discriminatory practices take the form of both state and federal jury pooling procedures. As such, the purpose of this blog post is to draw attention to the disproportionate jury pooling practices in Wisconsin circuit courts as well as federal district courts in our state, and to provide a forum for debate on this important issue.

Federal Jury Pooling in Wisconsin and the Depleted African American Voting Population

The right to a jury is so critical to the makeup of our system of justice that the Constitution mentions juries in four different sections. However, while individuals have a constitutional right to a jury, the pooling and selection of such juries is not always constitutionally executed. Both the Eastern and Western District Courts of Wisconsin have jury pooling practices that raise constitutional concerns due to the disproportional impact that those practices have on black criminal defendants. (more…)

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New Book on Sentencing and Corrections

I am pleased to report that my latest book, Prisons and Punishment in America: Examining the Facts, is now in print. Structured as a series of questions and answers, the book synthesizes the law and social science on sentencing, corrections, and prisoner reentry. Individual chapters cover: Sentencing law and practice Alternatives to incarceration Experience and consequences of incarceration Release and life after prison Women, juveniles, and other special offender populations Causes and significance of mass incarceration in the U.S. Race,…

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New Cases on the Constitutionality of Long Sentences for Juveniles: The Graham Saga Continues

In Graham v. Florida, 560 U.S. 48 (2010), the U.S. Supreme Court barred the sentence of life without the possibility of parole (LWOP) for crimes committed by anyone under eighteen years of age. Grounded in the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment, the Court’s holding recognized only one exception: juvenile LWOP might be permissible in cases involving homicide.

Despite its seemingly straightforward character, the Graham holding has spawned considerable litigation in the lower courts over its scope and application. Two interesting appellate decisions from last month highlight some of the difficulties.

In the first, U.S. v. Mathurin, the Eleventh Circuit had to consider whether a 685-month prison term should be treated as the functional equivalent of an LWOP sentence for Eighth Amendment purposes.   (more…)

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Violence Prevention Initiatives: The Difficulty of Building on Early Success

Project Safe Neighborhoods has been among the highest-profile and best-funded national violence prevention initiatives of the past two decades, involving allocations of about $1 billion to U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country. Evaluations to date have generally been positive, but a new study of the PSN experience in Chicago highlights the challenges of building on early success.

The researchers, Ben Grunwald and Andrew Papachristos, attempted a rigorous, beat-level analysis of the impact of PSN on troubled neighborhoods in the Windy City, which had a distinctive approach to PSN that seemed quite effective at first. (more…)

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