Court Remands EJI Death Penalty Case After Showing of Racial Discrimination


The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals on December 17, 2010, remanded the case of death row prisoner Demetrius Jackson because there was evidence that the prosecutor at his trial illegally excluded African Americans from jury service on the basis of race.

At trial, the prosecutor excluded 11 of the 14 qualified African Americans from Mr. Jackson’s jury. The African Americans who were excluded shared similarities with whites who were permitted to serve on the jury. And the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Association has a history of racial discrimination in jury selection.

On appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeals, EJI lawyers argued that this evidence established an inference of racial discrimination by the prosecutor. The law requires that, where the evidence shows an inference of discrimination, the prosecutor must provide race-neutral reasons for excluding African Americans from jury service. If those reasons are mere pretext for excluding jurors on the basis of race, then a new trial is required.

The Court of Criminal Appeals agreed that the evidence of racial discrimination in Mr. Jackson’s case requires the prosecutor to explain why he excluded so many African Americans from Mr. Jackson’s jury. It sent the case back to the trial court for the prosecutor to give reasons for the strikes. “If the prosecution cannot provide race-neutral reasons for its use of peremptory challenges against Black veniremembers,” the court ruled, “Jackson shall be entitled to a new trial.”

Challenging racially biased exclusion of African Americans from juries in death penalty cases is one part of EJI’s work to eradicate racial discrimination in jury selection.