Foster v. Humphrey U.S. Supreme Court Decision
Last year, I wrote about United States Supreme Court agreeing to hear argument in the case of Foster v. Humphrey. This case is out of the state of Georgia and involves an African American man that was convicted of murder by an all-white jury. Timothy Tyrone Foster was convicted of murdering a 79-year-old school teacher in 1987. During the murder trial, the defense raised the objection that the state prosecutors intentionally excluded African American jurors during the jury selection. The trial court denied Foster’s claim that racial discrimination was committed during jury selection. However, years later Foster’s defense attorneys had discovered hand written notes from the prosecutors that had the names of the black jurors highlighted and the word “black” was circled on the questionnaire portion of the jury selection form. The notes also showed that the four black prospective jurors were identified and ranked against each other by labeling them “B#1, B#2, B#3, and B#4.”
On May 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-1 ruling reversed Foster’s murder conviction based on the finding that the state’s use of peremptory challenges to strike all four African American jurors, that were otherwise qualified to serve, was racially motivated. Foster argued that the state’s racial discrimination during the jury selection was in violation of a 30 year old case, Batson v. Kentucky 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The Batson case was decided in 1986 only a few months before the jury selection process began for Foster’s murder trial. In Batson the U.S. Supreme Court held that the dismissal of jurors without stating a valid cause for doing so may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on race. The Court ruled that in doing so was a direct violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Foster, the hand written notes were clear evidence that the state was in violation of the Batson decision on racial discrimination during a jury selection in a capital murder trial. The Supreme Court’s decision means that Foster’s case was returned to the state and he may be entitled to a new trial decades after being sentenced to death for murder.