Class action says Mississippi's DA's office has a pattern of wrongfully excluding black jurors

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A federal lawsuit filed on Monday claims a Mississippi district attorney and his prosecutors are wrongfully using peremptory challenges to exclude potential black jurors more frequently than whites.

The suit targets longtime District Attorney Doug Evans of the Fifth Circuit Court District, whose use of peremptory challenges was at issue in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found racial bias in jury selection.

Courthouse News Service, the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal and the Mississippi Clarion Ledger have stories. A press release is here.

The June Supreme Court decision reversed the conviction of Curtis Flowers, who has been tried six times for a quadruple murder. Evans had used peremptory challenges to exclude 41 out of 42 potential black jurors in five of Flowers’ six trials; race information was not available for one of the trials, according to the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the new would-be class action are the Attala County branch of the NAACP and four black citizens eligible for jury service, including a potential black juror who was eliminated using a peremptory challenge in Flowers’ third murder trial.

In 225 trials examined by American Public Media Reports, Evans’ office used peremptory strikes to remove 50% of eligible black jurors and 11% of eligible white jurors, the suit says. That means the DA’s office struck black jurors at a rate that is 4.4 times greater than the rate at which it struck white jurors.

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that the peremptory policy of Evans’ office violates the plaintiffs’ 14th Amendment rights. The suit also seeks an injunction banning the office from employing a custom, usage or policy to exercise peremptory challenges against black potential jurors because of race.

Christopher Kemmit, senior counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, told the Daily Journal the suit is asking the federal court to enforce the Supreme Court ruling. He hopes the court will require Evans to document and show how his office is abiding by the decision.

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