The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal by a Black inmate who was sentenced to death with the help of a Texas juror who was accused of making racially biased remarks during the jury selection.
The justices ruled 6-3, tossing the appeal by Kristopher Love, who argued that the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals improperly refused to consider his claim of racial bias and that he was ultimately denied his constitutional right to an impartial jury.
“When racial bias infects a jury in a capital case, it deprives a defendant of his right to an impartial tribunal in a life-or-death context, and it ‘poisons public confidence’ in the judicial process,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the court’s dissenting opinion. She was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.
Love, 38, had filed an appeal after a then-prospective juror stated during the jury selection that people of “non-white” races are statistically more violent than white people, according to his petition.
Love’s defense team requested that this individual be removed from jury consideration but the court argued that the defense had already used up two extra peremptory strikes, which is when a potential juror is excused without a need for reason or explanation. The defense requested an extra peremptory strike but the request was denied, with the court stating that any error committed during the jury selection was harmless.
“That decision was plainly erroneous,” retorted Sotomayor. “An already-expended peremptory strike is no cure for the seating of an allegedly biased juror. The state court thus deprived Love of any meaningful review of his federal constitutional claim.”
The jury went on to sentence Love to death for a 2015 murder-for-hire plot that left a Dallas dentist dead. This followed the jury unanimously concluding that there was a sufficient probability that Love would commit future violent crimes and that life in prison would not suffice.
“The task of reviewing the record to determine whether a juror was fair and impartial is challenging, but it must be undertaken, especially when a person’s life is on the line.”
– Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Sotomayor said she would have vacated the lower court’s judgment and ordered Love’s racial bias claim to receive proper consideration.
“The task of reviewing the record to determine whether a juror was fair and impartial is challenging, but it must be undertaken, especially when a person’s life is on the line,” she said. “I would ensure that Love’s claim is heard by the Court of Criminal Appeals, rather than leave these questions unanswered. I respectfully dissent.”
Love’s attorney, John Tatum, expressed disappointment to Courthouse News.
“Obviously, I agree with the dissent that our legal system needs to cleanse itself of racial bias in jury selection and stop improperly using harmless error rules to block the application of laws we already have to protect the accused citizen from any racial bias in the application of criminal justice in this country,” he said in an email to the news outlet. Tatum did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Love was sentenced in 2018 for the shooting death of pediatric dentist Dr. Kendra Hatcher on Sept. 2, 2015. In this case, Love had been a gun for hire, paid by Brenda Delgado to kill Hatcher after Hatcher started a new relationship with Delgado’s ex-boyfriend, the court heard.
Delgado was sentenced in 2019 to life in prison without parole for her role in the scheme. This followed her fleeing to Mexico while out on bail and Mexico stipulating that she wouldn’t face the death penalty as part of her extradition agreement, according to Oxygen.
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