Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The O.J. Simpson case continues to have legal ramifications, as the Supreme Court prepares to consider whether a prosecutor's reference to the infamous case prejudiced an all-white jury against a black defendant eventually sentenced to death.
In the capital murder trial of Allen Snyder, an African-American, the prosecution used peremptory (automatic) challenges to dismiss five African-American prospective jurors. This resulted in Snyder being tried by an all-white jury, which found him guilty and approved the death penalty.
The defense argued that the prosecution's striking of the black jurors was racial discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, according to the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky.
Snyder has argued that the prosecutor aggravated his racial jury choices by making repeated statements comparing the case to the O.J. Simpson murder trial. After having indirectly referred to the Simpson trial before jury selection, the prosecutor had invoked the case again during the sentencing phase, comparing aspects of Snyder's case to Simpson's and noting that the latter defendant "got away with it."
The trial court applied the Batson framework and denied the defense's challenges. On appeal, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld the trial court, ruling that the trial judge had not acted unreasonably when he accepted the prosecution's race-neutral justifications for the dismissals of the black jurors.
The court ruled that the O.J. Simpson references were harmless comparisons made in the course of a rebuttal, and it noted that the prosecution had not mentioned Simpson's or Snyder's race. When the Supreme Court instructed the state court to reconsider the case in light of Miller-El v. Dretke, which requires that courts consider the totality of the circumstances when evaluating discriminatory intent, the court affirmed the trial court a second time. [Mark Godsey]