Texas Should Not Have Executed Robert Pruett

Update: Robert Pruett was executed by lethal injection on Thursday.
Robert Pruett is scheduled to be executed by the State of Texas Thursday. He has never had a chance to live outside a prison as an adult. Taking his life is a senseless wrong that shows how badly the justice system fails juveniles.
Mr. Pruett was 15 years old when he last saw the outside world, after being arrested as an accomplice to a murder committed by his own father. Now 38, having been convicted of a murder while incarcerated, he will be put to death. At a time when the Supreme Court has begun to recognize excessive punishments for juveniles as unjust, Mr. Pruett’s case shows how young lives can be destroyed by a justice system that refuses to give second chances.
Mr. Pruett’s father, Sam Pruett, spent much of Mr. Pruett’s early childhood in prison. Mr. Pruett and his three siblings were raised in various trailer parks by his mother, who he has said used drugs heavily and often struggled to feed the children. Wh…

Louisiana: Black jurors more likely to be struck from Caddo juries

Black prospective jurors in Caddo Parish are 3 times more likely to be struck from a jury than whites, a new study released today says.

The study, conducted by anti-death penalty group Reprieve Australia, looked at 332 felony jury trials prosecuted by the Caddo Parish District Attorney Office from Jan. 28, 2003, and Dec. 5, 2012.

In the cases examined, the DA's office used discretionary "peremptory" challenge, which doesn't require stating a reason, to reject potential jurors. What emerged was a troubling pattern which has garnered renewed scrutiny for jury selection practices in Caddo Parish.

"In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, this pattern discloses that it strongly suggests race has played a role in the exercise of these peremptory challenges, by the Caddo Parish DA's Office, Ursula Noye, Reprieve Australia's vice president and Blackstrikes Fellow, said.

The nonprofit found:

--Of the trials examined, 227 (83 %) involved a black defendant.

--The district attorney's office used discretionary "peremptory challenges" to strike qualified potential black jurors 46 % of the time as opposed to the 15 % of the time for non-black jurors.

--In Caddo Parish 22 % of trials had 2 or fewer black jurors. Not 1 defendant was acquitted in a trial were there 2 or fewer black jurors. The 51 trials with 3 or more black jurors had an acquittal rating of 12 %.

--In 224 12-% juries, there was an average of 3.86 jurors per jury who were black. 206 of these juries returned a verdict.

--Some Caddo DA prosecutors struck black jurors at rate of 4.5 to 5 times the rate they struck non-black jurors.

Source: The Advertiser, August 18, 2015

U.S.: 95% of Prosecutors Are White and They Treat Blacks Worse

About one in three black men in the United States can expect to be incarcerated at some point in their lives. Black men comprise 6% of the U.S. population but 35% of the prison population.

Along the way, they will meet a lot of white people.

Local police forces are, on average, 88 percent white. Places like Ferguson, Missouri, are but the most extreme examples of nearly all-white police departments patrolling majority-nonwhite precincts.

But the white cop is only the first responder. Throughout the criminal justice system, defendants will repeatedly encounter disproportionately white—sometimes all-white—agents of the law. Most importantly, the charges against them will be set by 95 percent white prosecutors, elected on state and local levels. In fact, two-thirds of states that elect their prosecutors have no black prosecutors at all.

Since prosecutors convict 86 percent of the prison population, this means a nearly all-white cadre of attorneys is putting a disproportionately black cohort of defendants in jail.

Now, do all these statistics really matter? Sure, it looks bad that prosecutors are almost entirely white, but that doesn't make them racist, right?

In fact, the racial divide among prosecutors correlates with how they unequally treat black and white defendants.

Remember, the overwhelming majority of criminal cases never make it to judge or jury. A stunning 97 percent of federal convictions and roughly 95 percent of state convictions are the result of guilty pleas reached through plea bargaining between prosecutors and defense attorneys: If the defendant pleads guilty before a trial, he or she will receive a lesser sentence than what would likely result from a conviction after trial.

In this environment, prosecutors have enormous leverage, unchecked discretion, and nearly absolute immunity. They decide initial charges, how to negotiate with defense attorneys, and whether to accept a given plea bargain or proceed to trial.

Click here to read the full article

Source: The Daily Beast, Jay Michaelson, August 17, 2015

Jury of Your Peers? Study Finds Prosecutors Exclude Blacks Because All-White Juries Are More Likely to Convict, Support Death Penalty

According to The New York Times, a study of the Caddo Parish, Louisiana, court system has revealed prosecutors often exclude Blacks from jury trials so they can tip the scales of justice in their favor. The article, written by Adam Liptak, also said prosecutors preferred to have all-white juries because Black jurors reduced their conviction rate.

"No defendants were acquitted when 2 or fewer of the dozen jurors were black. When there were at least 3 black jurors, the acquittal rate was 12 %," Liptak said. "With 5 or more, the rate rose to 19 %. Defendants in all 3 groups were overwhelmingly black."

Lawyers also said prosecutors try to exclude Black people from jury trials because they were less likely to support the death penalty.

"Opposition to the death penalty is much more common among black people, polls regularly show," said Kent S. Scheidegger, a lawyer with the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation, in an interview with The New York Times. "Striking jurors for hesitation about capital punishment is legitimate, he continued, adding that it is largely balanced 'by defense lawyers doing exactly the same thing the other way.'"

According to Slate, a Pew Research poll showed 63 % of whites supported the death penalty, while only 36 % of Black people were in favor. It seems Black people were less likely to support the death penalty because, having seen so many Black men freed from death row, they realize how flawed the system is.

The study also revealed stark disparities in the Caddo Parish criminal justice system. According to The New York Times, about half of the residents of Caddo Parish are Black, but Black people made up 83 % of the defendants in the study.

The New York Times article pointed out that prosecutors often used "peremptory challenges," which allow potential jurors to be dismissed with no explanation, to eliminate Black residents. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that if lawyers are accused of racial discrimination, they have to provide a neutral justification. Liptak said lawyers offered a broad range of reasons to cut Black jurors.

"Here are some reasons prosecutors have offered for excluding blacks from juries: They were young or old, single or divorced, religious or not, failed to make eye contact, lived in a poor part of town, had served in the military, had a hyphenated last name, displayed bad posture, were sullen, disrespectful or talkative, had long hair, wore a beard," Liptak said.

The New York Times article also said some prosecutors clearly stated they didn't want any Black citizens on the jury.

"The case arose from the 1987 trial of Timothy T. Foster, an African-American facing the death penalty for killing a white woman, Queen Madge White. Prosecutors worked hard to exclude blacks from the jury," said The New York Times. "In notes that did not surface until decades later, they marked the names of black prospective jurors with a B. They highlighted those names in green. They circled the word 'black' where potential jurors had noted their race on questionnaires."

This issue is not unique to Louisiana. The New York Times said similar problems had also been found in other parts of the country.

"That is consistent with patterns researchers found earlier in Alabama, Louisiana and North Carolina, where prosecutors struck black jurors at double or triple the rates of others," said The New York Times. "In Georgia, prosecutors excluded every black prospective juror in a death penalty case against a black defendant, which the Supreme Court has agreed to review this fall."

Scholars say racially biased jury trials undermine the integrity of the legal system.

"If you repeatedly see all-white juries convict African-Americans, what does that do to public confidence in the criminal justice system?" said Elisabeth A. Semel, the director of the death penalty clinic at the law school at the University of California, Berkeley.

Although many Americans see jury duty as an annoyance, many of the Black people interviewed in The New York Times article saw it as an important civic duty.

"Next to voting, participating in a jury is perhaps the most important civil right," said Ursula Noye, a researcher who compiled the data for the report.

Source: Atlanta Black Star, August 19, 2015

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