Skip to content
Name: Miller-El v. Cockrell
Case #: Jan-62
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 02/25/2003
Subsequent History: Cross-cites: 123 S.Ct. 1029; 154 L.Ed.2d 931

When prosecutors used peremptory strikes to exclude 10 of the 11 eligible African-Americans from petitioner’s jury in his capital trial, he moved to strike the jury on the ground that the exclusions violated equal protection. The trial court found no systematic exclusion of African-Americans and denied the motion. Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to death. The appellate court remanded to reconsider in light of Batson and there was a further hearing. The trial court held that petitioner had not raised an inference of racial motivation, and that the prosecutors had proffered credible race-neutral explanations for the exclusions, (i.e. reservations concerning the death penalty). Petitioner’s federal habeas was denied despite substantial evidence including showing that the prosecution questioned the jurors regarding their views on the death penalty in a racially disparate faction, as well as a pattern and practice of race discrimination during voir dire by the District Attorney’s office. The Fifth Circuit denied petitioner’s application for a certificate of appealability (COA) which issues “only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.” In this opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fifth Circuit should have issued a COA to review the district court’s denial of habeas relief. The district court did not give full consideration to the substantial evidence petitioner put forth in support of the prima facie case. The question is the debatability of the underlying constitutional claim, not the resolution of that debate. Here, there was debate as to whether the prosecution acted with a race-based reason when striking jurors as raised by the statistical evidence, by the fact that some of the white jurors accepted had the same reservations concerning the death penalty, etc. Therefore, reversal and remand was required. (8-1) J. Thomas dissented.