Eleventh Circuit Grants Relief to Alabama Death Row Inmate Because Prosecutor Illegally Discriminated Against Black Jurors


The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit on February 27, 2013, ordered a new trial for Alabama death row inmate Ricky Adkins after finding that prosecutors at Mr. Adkins’s trial illegally discriminated against African American jurors.

At trial, St. Clair County prosecutors used peremptory strikes to exclude nine of eleven eligible Black jurors, resulting in a strike rate of 82%. The federal appeals court “conclude[d] the removal of so many eligible Black jurors in Mr. Adkins’s case is difficult to explain on nonracial grounds.”

The court used as an example the State’s striking of African American veniremember B. Morris. The prosecution said it struck him because he was single and had prior knowledge about the case. “But in fact, Mr. Morris told the state during voir dire that he was married. What’s more, almost all of the jurors on the venire had prior knowledge about the case, including the majority of white jurors who sat on the jury . . . The absence of a legitimate reason indicates Mr. Morris was removed because of his race,” the court concluded.

Moreover, Mr. Morris was not the only Black juror for whom the state offered reasons that were not supported by the record or were otherwise suspect because they applied to white jurors who were not excused.

The prosecutor’s race consciousness during jury selection was further demonstrated by the fact that he noted the race of every Black veniremember — and only Black veniremembers — on his jury list, marking each of them with a “BM” or “BF” and also because he stated that he thought he was permitted to strike Black jurors because Mr. Adkins is white. (Powers v. Ohio, in which the Supreme Court extended racial discrimination claims to white defendants, was decided after Mr. Adkins’s trial.)

The court found that the “record compels a finding that the state used its peremptory strikes in a discriminatory manner and violated Mr. Adkins’s right to Equal Protection” and ordered the federal trial court to grant habeas relief. Mr. Adkins is now entitled to a new trial.

Last year, the Eleventh Circuit ordered further review in Alabama death row inmate Vernon Madison‘s case because of the State’s discriminatory jury selection. The court also granted a new trial to Alabama death row inmate Earl McGahee in 2009 for the same reason.