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Name: Foster v. Chatman
Case #: 14-8349
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 05/23/2016
Summary

State court erred under Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 by crediting prosecutor’s race-neutral reasons for using peremptory strikes against black jurors where prosecutor’s file contained documents reflecting that black jurors had been targeted for strikes from the outset. A Georgia jury convicted Foster of murder and sentenced him to death. On appeal, he argued that the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to strike all four black prospective jurors was racially motivated in violation of Batson. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed. Foster filed a state habeas petition and obtained a copy of the prosecutor’s file. Inside the file, Foster found various documents that illustrated black prospective jurors had been targeted for exclusion by the prosecution team from the outset. Nevertheless, the state trial court denied Foster’s habeas petition, concluding that review of the Batson issue was barred by res judicata because the material in the prosecutor’s file did not sufficiently alter the facts material to the Batson analysis. The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately granted certiorari. Held: Reversed. As a threshold matter, the state judgment did not rest on an independent state law ground that precluded federal review. Although the state court relied on res judicata, its analysis of state law ground turned on a federal question—whether the materials in the prosecutor’s file altered the Batson analysis. On the merits, the contents of the prosecutor’s file coupled with a comparative juror analysis showed purposeful discrimination in the prosecution’s selection of the jury. The race-neutral reasons provided for striking the black jurors also applied to white jurors who were not stricken. The state court erred by concluding otherwise and denying Foster’s Batson claim.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/15pdf/14-8349_6k47.pdf