Washington, DC (May 24, 2016) – Yesterday, in its 7 to 1 judgment in Foster v. Chatman (14-8349), the U.S. Supreme Court found that prosecutors violated the Constitution in the 1987 capital case against Timothy T. Foster, an African-American man accused of killing a white woman, when they struck every prospective black juror from the pool. The 1986 Supreme Court case of Batson v. Kentucky (84-6263) held that "peremptory strikes," or strikes of jury pool members without an articulated reason, are unconstitutional if race is the motive. In Foster, documents came to light decades after the trial showing that prosecutors in Mr. Foster's case had kept specific notes identifying and ranking prospective black jurors.
"What the prosecutor's office did in Mr. Foster's case rightly shocks the conscience for its blatant disregard of core constitutional protections that must be afforded to all who are accused of a crime in this country," said National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) President E.G. "Gerry" Morris. "For nearly 30 years, Mr. Foster has served on Georgia's death row, sent there by an illegally constituted jury. It's not often that prosecutors create, and defense counsel is able to secure, demonstrable evidence of Batson violations, as here. This case serves as a powerful reminder of just one of the many ways in which the rights of the accused, and the integrity of the criminal process, can be compromised. Taken together with scores of exonerations, not to mention ghoulish and all-too-frequently grotesque execution protocols with secretly obtained lethal concoctions, it is further proof of the unacceptability of capital punishment in an advanced and civilized criminal justice system. The abolition of the death penalty is long overdue, as is abundantly clear by the continuing collapse of the case for it."
Eighteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have abolished capital punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Since 1976, approximately 1,436 people have been executed in the United States. Since 1973, the DPIC reports that "more than 150 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence." And in 2015, as in each of the last nearly ten years, the United States was in the top five countries of the world with the most confirmed executions, a list which often includes nations such as China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
NACDL has long and steadfastly called for the abolition of the death penalty in the United States. To learn more about NACDL's work to abolish the death penalty, please visit http://www.nacdl.org/criminal-defense/death-penalty/.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal justice system.