Death row inmate’s racial prejudice claim was denied appeal by the US Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by Kristopher Love, a Black Texas death row inmate, who argued that one of the jurors in his trial was racially prejudiced. ethnicity.

The verdict was 6-3 with conservatives having a majority. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, along with her liberal colleagues, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer, disagreed with the court order.

Sotomayor writes: “When racial prejudice infects a jury in a capital case, it deprives the defendant of a right to a fair trial in a life-or-death setting.

Much of the court did not explain its reasoning.

The dispute arose in 2015, when Brenda Delgado hired Love to kill her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, Dr. Kendra Hatcher. Love eventually shot Hatcher in her car and took her away. In 2018, Love was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

At the trial, during jury selection, potential juror Zachary Niesman, who is white, was asked in his jury questionnaire: “Sometimes you personally have a bias against members of certain races or ethnic groups.” He replied “No.” The follow-up question was asked, “Do you believe that some races and/or ethnic groups are more prone to violence than others.” Niesman replied: “Yes, statistics show that more violent crimes are committed by certain races. I believe in statistics.”

The trial judge allowed both sides to further question Niesman. The prospective juror told Love’s advice that the statistics he was referring to were ones he had seen in news reports and criminology classes. But he reiterated that they do not reflect his personal feelings. The defense challenged Niesman’s ability to be an impartial juror, but the trial judge allowed him to serve.

Love was eventually found guilty and sentenced to death.

On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not resolve Love’s federal claim that he was denied a constitutional right to a fair jury.

Instead, the court held that even if it found the trial court to be at fault, Love could not show that he was harmed under state law. The court explained in part that Love was given two more opportunities to attack the juror for the same reason earlier in the proceedings.

In court papers, Texas argued that the trial judge was right to allow Niesman to serve because he was “not racially prejudiced.”

“Under Texas law, as well as the precedent of this Court, the trial judge’s decision was handled very well because it was based on her assessment of Niesman’s demeanor and credibility” during the selection process. jury, attorney for State Debate. They say the filing reflects that the trial court “conducted a diligent and thoughtful process” that lasted about eight weeks.

Sotomayor said the appeals court’s decision was “clearly erroneous.”

“Over time, we’ve tried to clean up our jury system of racial bias,” she wrote, saying the appeals court should have reviewed Love’s constitutional complaint. “The task of reviewing records to determine if a jury is fair and objective is challenging, but it must be done, especially when one’s life is on the line. .”

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