Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues that jurors who express familiarity with the FBI’s crime statistics should be banned from capital case juries for “racial bias.” Indeed, citing the now infamous 13% statistic may be grounds for dismissal from a jury in capital trials.
Sotomayor wrote her dissenting opinion in the case of Kristopher Love, a black man convicted of capital murder during the course of a robbery in 2015.
Ahead of Love’s trial, prospective members of the jury were told to fill out a questionnaire that included the following questions:
68. Do you sometimes personally harbor bias against members of certain races or ethnic groups?
69. Do you believe that some races and/or ethnic groups tend to be more violent than others?
One juror answered “no” to the first question, but answered “yes” to the second, explaining that he understood that people of non-white ethnic backgrounds to be “more violent races” because he was aware of the statistics to the effect in “news reports and criminology classes” he had taken, Information Liberation reported.
The juror made it clear that his views were based on statistics and not his personal feelings about black people. Despite his clarification, Love’s council moved to exclude him from the jury based on “his stated beliefs that ... non-whites commit more violent crimes than whites.”
“Leaving this man on the jury would be an invitation to leaving someone on there that might make a decision on Special Issue No. 1 that would ultimately lead to a sentence of death on his preconceived notions and beliefs that have to do with the race of the defendant,” the counsel argued.
Ultimately, the trial court denied the counsel's request to have the juror removed. Love was later found guilty and sentenced to death for his murder of a popular Dallas dentist.
“The dispute arose in 2015, when Brenda Delgado hired Love to kill her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend, Dr. Kendra Hatcher who was a popular pediatric dentist. Love was the gunman in a 3-person conspiracy to kill Hatcher. The plot came to light after officers arrested Crystal Cortes, who admitted to driving the getaway vehicle,” KWTX reported.
The Supreme Court on April 18 denied Love’s appeal, rejecting the argument that the black inmate on the Texas death row faced racial prejudice from the juror.
The ruling was 6-3, with the conservatives in the majority. Sotomayor was joined by her liberal colleagues, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer.
“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,” Sotomayor wrote.
Excerpts of Sotomayor’s dissent in the Supreme Court can be read as follows:
Cite as: 596 U. S. ____ (2022) 1
SOTOMAYOR, J., dissenting
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
KRISTOPHER LOVE v. TEXAS
ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS
No. 21–5050. Decided April 18, 2022
The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, with whom JUSTICE BREYER and
JUSTICE KAGAN join, dissenting from the denial of summary vacatur.
[...] The seating of a racially biased juror, therefore, can never be harmless. As with other forms of disqualifying bias, if even one racially biased juror is empaneled and the death penalty is imposed, "the State is disentitled to execute the sentence," Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U. S. 719, 729 (1992).
In this case, petitioner Kristopher Love, a Black man, claims that one of the jurors in his capital trial was racially biased because the juror asserted during jury selection that "[n]on-white" races were statistically more violent than the white race. […]