Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Snyder v. Louisiana

Posted by Maggie on December 3, 2007

Later this week, the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Snyder v. Louisiana, a death penalty case. SCOTUS wiki has a helpful write-up of the issues along with links to the briefs. Snyder was tried for murder in 1996 and the appeal isn’t really about guilt, it’s about sentencing, racism, and prosecutor misconduct. Juicy, huh?

Snyder stabbed his wife and a man she’d just spent the evening with. The wife lived, the lover died. The only aggravating factor making him eligible for the death penalty was the risk of harm to more than one person. (Haven’t heard that one before. Is this common in states?) The prosecutor was all over the news referring to the case as the OJ Simpson case, trying to play on the public sentiment that OJ was guilty and got off. When defense counsel moved for the prosecutor to stop, the prosecutor promised he would. Of course, he didn’t, and brought it up during his final argument in the sentencing phase.

Local residents are 20% black, but the jury panel was only 10% black. Of the 9 black jury members, 4 were dismissed for cause, and the prosecutor struck the other 5. The reasons given by the prosecutor when challenged were predictably weak, but the court let it by. So Snyder, a black man, was now tried before an all-white jury that gave the death penalty.

The Louisiana Supreme Court stuck with the trial court in allowing the prosecutor’s reasons for striking jurors. The USSC has the opportunity to further clarify the Batson challenge that requires strikes not be used in a discriminatory fashion. They did it recently in the Miller-El case, which set forth a pretty high standard of rigorous review, and hopefully the fact that they’ve granted cert to Snyder means they’re willing to yet again clarify the issue.

Counsel of record for Snyder is Stephen Bright with the Southern Center. Here is the Southern Center’s press release. They also have a link to a particularly damning write-up of the prosecutor in this case. (Read the interview at the beginning if you really want to be disgusted with humanity. Skip to the later articles for a less nauseating factual point of view.)

Update: SCOTUS has a nice write-up of the oral argument.

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