A black man who was sentenced to death in Tennessee may be entitled to a reprieve, based on recent events. Though the crime of which the man was convicted occurred in 1986, his appeal of the decision pushed his case out to 2020. In the Fall of 2019, a judge agreed to change the man’s sentence based on the allegation that the prosecutor who handled the case had illegally excluded black jurors.
Though prosecutors are not permitted to select a jury pool based on race, it happens more often than some may realize. The prosecutor in this case even admitted to looking at race as a factor when selecting jurors, saying that he liked to select black jurors for trials of Mexicans because “all blacks hate Mexicans.” Here, there is also evidence to suggest that the prosecutor impermissibly considered race. According to court records, the prosecutors gave suspicious reasons for excluding certain black jurors, such as appearing “uneducated” (for a college-educated black preacher). This contrasted with how white jurors were treated, including those who were uneducated but allowed onto the jury.
The Nashville District Attorney seemed to see the risk involved in continuing to fight this case on appeal, and he was willing to reach a compromise with the defendant: in exchange for giving up all appeal rights, the man’s sentence would be converted to life in prison. Though a judge approved this agreement, the Attorney General took issue with it and is appealing the court’s decision.
There are several ways that prosecutors can abuse their discretion in the way they handle cases. Individuals accused of a crime in Tennessee should consider retaining a private criminal defense attorney to represent them. Even at the earlier stages of a case, a private attorney who has more time and attention to dedicate to a case than a public defender can make a big difference.