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Snyder Decision Highlights Problem of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Christopher Hill,
Capital Punishment Project
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March 26, 2008

In the case of Snyder v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that a trial judge in a Louisiana court allowed a prosecutor to strike a black juror, leaving an all-white jury to consider the fate of a black defendant in a capital trial. In the 7-2 decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, the court found that white jurors were allowed to stay on the jury even though they had the same concerns the prosecutor claimed were a basis for striking the black juror.

Although the Court did not make a ruling about this in the decision, after striking all of the black jurors, the prosecutor continually made references to the O.J. Simpson case throughout the trial. The case has been remanded for a new trial.

While the decision was good news for the capital defense community, the Snyder case once again highlights the problems that exist in the capital trial system. A prosecutor was able to argue for the death of a black man before an all-white jury. The prosecutor was also allowed to continuously reference a racially divisive case with impunity. Such misconduct is not rare. Many people have been exonerated from death row based on prosecutorial misconduct. Snyder is a step in the right direction but there are still miles to travel to ensure fair trials for all capital defendants.

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