Mariano Rosales spent more than 23 years on Texas’s death row after being convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death by a Harris County (Houston) jury from which African Americans and Latinos were excluded because of their race. Between 1985 and 2008, Mr. Rosales consistently appealed his conviction and sentence, asserting that his his trial prosecutors improperly used their peremptory challenges to exclude prospective jurors of color because of race. Peremptory challenges allow both prosecutors and defense attorneys to eliminate potential jurors from service on a particular case for any reason other than race and gender, and are intended to ensure both parties a fair trial. It was not until LDF, along with co-counsel from the Texas Defender Service and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom, LLP, assumed representation of Mr. Rosales that his claims were validated.
LDF presented the Court with evidence demonstrating that there was a significant, documented history of intentional exclusion of prospective jurors of color by Harris County prosecutors; that Mr. Rosales’ trial prosecutors had been previously accused of discriminating against minority jurors; that the prosecutors excluded a disproportionate number of minority jurors; that one trial prosecutor tracked the race of the minority (but not white) prospective jurors; and that one prosecutor admitted to having reservations about seating minority jurors in a case involving a minority defendant. Because the United States Supreme Court has held that purposefully striking minorities from jury service violates the Equal Protection Clause and denies an accused the right to a fair trial, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas granted Mr. Rosales’ Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus and vacated his conviction and death sentence. Mr. Rosales was subsequently resentenced to life imprisonment after LDF and its co-counsel negotiated a plea bargain on his behalf.
LDF fights to ensure the right to a fair trial is one to be enjoyed by all Americans, regardless of race. As such, the fight against jury discrimination is a central component of LDF’s criminal justice work.