EJI Wins Relief for Earl McGahee: Eleventh Circuit Holds Prosecutor Illegally Discriminated Against Jurors on Basis of RaceMarch 05, 2009

EJI client Earl McGahee, who is African American, was tried by an all-white jury in a county where the African American population was over 55%. The prosecutor excluded all of the African Americans from jury service based on their race and what he characterized as their "low intelligence."

After two decades spent challenging the race discrimination in this case, EJI won relief for Mr. McGahee yesterday when the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed his capital murder conviction because the prosecutor engaged in illegal racial discrimination during jury selection.

EJI argued Mr. McGahee's case before the Eleventh Circuit in October 2008. He urged the court to find that the Dallas County prosecutor acted illegally when he eliminated every African American from Mr. McGahee's jury and gave race-based reasons for striking black jurors.

Mr. McGahee was tried in 1986, just after the United States Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), made clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause prohibits exclusion of potential jurors based on their race.

The prosecution removed all of the African American jurors. As a result, Mr. McGahee was tried by an all-white jury. "This is an astounding fact," the Eleventh Circuit found, especially considering that "the county in which the trial was taking place was fifty-five percent African-American." The court found that the State's "total removal of all African-American jurors from the venire" constitutes strong evidence of racial discrimination.

EJI argued that the prosecutor's reasons for striking a number of the black prospective jurors also revealed racial discrimination. Without any support in the record, the prosecutor asserted that he removed six black jurors because of their alleged “low intelligence."

The Eleventh Circuit found that "the State’s claim that several African-Americans were of 'low intelligence' is a particularly suspicious explanation given the role that the claim of 'low intelligence' has played in the history of racial discrimination from juries." It held that the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals unreasonably applied federal law when it failed to consider the "fact that one of the State’s proffered reasons for striking multiple African-American jurors is unsupported by the record and historically tied to racism."

EJI lawyers also argued that the prosecutor's explanation that he removed the final African American juror because he “did not want to leave him individually” could only mean that the State did not want him to be the sole black person on the jury. The Eleventh Circuit agreed that this was an "explicitly racial reason" for striking the juror and found that the juror was illegally struck based on his race.

In light of "the astonishing pattern resulting from the total exclusion of African-Americans in this county in which they comprised fifty-five percent and the strong evidence of racebased decision-making" by the prosecution, the Eleventh Circuit held that the State had illegally discriminated against black jurors and granted Mr. McGahee habeas corpus relief.