SCOTUS Update: Flowers v. Mississippi
Updated: Oct 19
When it comes to criminal cases, jury selection is quite vital. Jurors can make or break a case, and attorneys around the country have different tactics on how they go about their selection. On both sides of a case, both the prosecution and defense have a certain number of peremptory strikes, depending on the state, which are used to remove jurors without having to provide a specific reason. However, in 1986, the Supreme Court case, Batson v. Kentucky, came out with an opinion explaining that prosecutors cannot use their preemptory strikes to remove jurors based only on the race of the juror.
On March 20, 2019, Flowers v. Mississippi was argued in front of the Supreme Court. Curtis Giovanni Flowers has been tried six separate times in the state of Mississippi by the same prosecutor. On July 16, 1996, Curtis Flowers was accused of murdering four individuals who were found at Tardy Furniture in Winona, Mississippi. No direct evidence ever connected Mr. Flowers to the crime. Mr. Flowers had six different jury trials between 1996 and 2010. At the first two trials, Mr. Flowers was convicted and sentenced to death, however, those convictions were reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court. Investigation of these trials showed that the lead prosecutor on the case, Doug Evans, had engaged in intentional misconduct, such as introducing unnecessary extrinsic evidence. Mr. Evans also struck every single African American potential juror in both trials. Regardless, Evans stayed as the lead prosecutor on the next four trials.
At the third trial, Mr. Flowers was again convicted and sentenced to death, but yet again, the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned these convictions. The court ruled that the prosecutor, Mr. Evans, had violated Batson when he used all 15 of his peremptory strikes to remove African-American members of the jury pool. At both the fourth and fifth trials, the juries deadlocked. At Flowers’ sixth and final trial, Mr. Evans, sat one African American juror on the jury and then struck the remaining prospective African American jurors. The jury in the sixth trial had 11 white jurors and only one African American juror. Mr. Flowers was once again convicted and sentenced to death.
On March 20, 2019, Sheri Johnson, attorney for Mr. Flowers, explained to the justices that “the only plausible interpretation of all of the evidence viewed cumulatively is that Doug Evans began jury selection in the sixth trial with an unconstitutional end in mind, to seat as few African American jurors as he could.” Ms. Johnson stressed to the justices that Mr. Evans had a history of striking potential African American jurors.
Justice Alito challenged Ms. Johnson’s argument. He suggested that Mr. Evans struck the African American jurors for non-discriminatory reasons. Surprisingly, Justice Kavanaugh contested Mr. Jason Davis, who argued on behalf of the state of Mississippi. Justice Kavanaugh brought to Mr. Davis’ attention that Mr. Evans had removed 41 of 42 potential African American jurors from the jury pool throughout Mr. Flowers’ six trials. Chief Justice Roberts proposed a question: how do we establish a rule that will govern future cases? Chief Justice Roberts pointed out that Mr. Flowers’ case was unusual because of the extensive history and misconduct of the same prosecutor on the case. Chief Justice Robertsasked another question: how far back should courts look to evaluate a prosecutor’s past misconduct? Ms. Johnson replied to the Chief Justice’s questions and said the courts should consider a prosecutor’s past misconduct. Ms. Johnson explained that not only should Courts look at past conduct, but they should also consider if the conduct was made during a relatively similar matter or if the prosecutor had the same motive.
The Supreme Court is anticipated to take a while to decide the outcome of this case. Like I said before, juries obviously have a huge impact in criminal cases. A juror can decide to convict based on a defendant’s race or even if they just don’t like the defendant. Attorneys on both sides must use good judgement when picking a jury and using their peremptory strikes. Mr. Curtis Giovanni Flowers deserves a fair trial, with jurors who will think logically about his case.