Alabama Supreme Court Reverses Death Penalty Case After Finding Evidence of Racial Discrimination in Jury Selection


On December 4, 2009, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the case of Jason Sharp, who was sentenced to death following a trial tainted by the State’s discrimination against African Americans during jury selection.

During jury selection for Mr. Sharp’s trial in Madison County, Alabama, the State used its peremptory strikes to remove 11 of the 14 African Americans who qualified to serve on the jury. The State was not required to explain its strikes on the record at trial.

On appeal, the State said the record nonetheless showed why it struck all 11 African American prospective jurors. The Alabama Supreme Court examined the record and found that “the State struck some African-American jurors whose responses to the questions posed in the jury questionnaires were similar to the responses of white jurors,
although it did not strike the white jurors. Therefore, the record creates an inference of discrimination on the part of the State.”

Reversing the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court sent the case back to that court for further proceedings. “If the State cannot provide racially neutral reasons for the use of its peremptory challenges against African-American veniremembers, Sharp must receive a new trial,” it ordered.

Mr. Sharp’s case is the latest in a long line of Alabama death-penalty cases in which the State illegally removed Black people from serving on the jury because of their race. EJI intervened in Mr. Sharp’s case and raised the issue of racial discrimination in jury selection. Earlier this year, EJI won a new trial for Earl McGahee, who was tried by an all-white jury in a majority Black county after prosecutors illegally barred African Americans from serving on his jury.