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9th Circuit Reverses State Death Penalty Verdict On Racial Bias Grounds

Publication Date: 
August 30, 2012
Daily Journal
Emily Green

Professor Robert Weisberg spoke with the Daily Journal's Emily Green about the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a death penalty verdict on racial bias grounds and what might happen in the case should it make it's way to the Supreme Court.

A San Quentin inmate on death row for 23 years should receive a new trial because the prosecution used its preemptory challenges to strike all potential black and Hispanic jurors from the jury pool, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The 2-1 decision reverses the district court as well as the state Supreme Court, which denied the inmate's petition 12 years ago. The state high court ruled that the preemptory challenges were race-neutral.


Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, said he thought the 9th Circuit's decision would stand.

"At some point the Supreme Court may take up the question of whether there is harmless error in Batson cases," Weisberg said, using the term for alleging that potential jurors are excluded solely on the basis of their race. But he said even where the court has been "very, very tough on capital defendants, it has tended to be generous in recent years" on those sorts of claims.

"I'll venture a guess and say the Supreme Court will leave this one alone," he said.