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Name: Flowers v. Mississippi
Case #: 17-9572
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/21/2019
Subsequent History: 139 S.Ct. 2228
Summary

Based on the extraordinary facts and circumstances of this case, the trial court committed clear error by concluding the State’s peremptory challenge of a black juror in defendant’s Sixth trial was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent. Flowers was tried six separate times for the murder of four employees of a Mississippi furniture store. Flowers is black. Three of the four victims were white. Three of Flower’s previous trials ended in convictions, but the convictions were reversed based on prosecutorial misconduct during one trial and Batson violations in the other two. Two trials ended in mistrials. At his sixth trial, Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death. On appeal, he argued the State (again) used peremptory strikes in violation of Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79. Held: Reversed. Exercising a peremptory challenge on the basis of race violates the defendant’s right to equal protection of the laws. In evaluating a Batson challenge, the court considers all the facts and circumstances of the case. Here, four critical facts, taken together, required reversal in this extraordinary case. First, over six trials, the State used peremptory challenges to strike 41 of 42 black jurors. Second, in the sixth trial, the State used peremptory challenges to strike five of six black prospective jurors. Third, in the sixth trial, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors: on average the State asked each struck black juror 29 questions and each seated white juror one question. Fourth, the State struck at least one black juror who was similarly situated to other white jurors who were not struck. The prosecutor also made a series of incorrect statements to justify the strikes of prospective black jurors, which further suggests the strikes may have been racially motivated. The court did not decide whether any one of these four facts alone would require reversal. The court also noted it was not breaking new legal ground in this case and was simply enforcing Batson. [Editor’s Notes: (1) Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Alito also filed a concurring opinion. Justice Thomas filed a dissenting opinion, which Justice Gorsuch joined in part. (2) The case of Curtis Flowers is chronicled in the podcast In the Dark, Season 2: https://www.apmreports.org/in-the-dark/season-two.]

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/17-9572_k536.pdf