After 23 years on Texas' death row, NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) client Mariano Rosales was granted a new trial on Friday, December 12, 2008. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas vacated Mr. Rosales' capital conviction and death sentence because his trial prosecutors improperly excluded African American and Latino prospective jurors because of their race in violation of Batson v. Kentucky. LDF represents Mr. Rosales along with the Texas Defender Service and the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP.
"No criminal conviction – and certainly no death sentence – that is achieved through the intentional exclusion of African Americans and other minorities can be allowed to stand," said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel. "Allowing discrimination to infect the criminal justice system flouts the right to equal protection under law and a fair trial."
In finding that Mr. Rosales' conviction and death sentence were unconstitutional, the Federal Court pointed to the substantial evidence of discrimination marshaled by LDF, including:
• the documented history of intentional exclusion of prospective jurors of color in Harris County (Houston), Texas;
• 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.
Christina Swarns, Director of LDF's Criminal Justice Project, noted that "by acknowledging, and rectifying, the racial discrimination in Mr. Rosales' case, the Federal Court protects not only Mr. Rosales but also the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the rights of qualified African-American and Latino citizens to serve on juries."
Mr. Rosales, whose conviction arose from murders occurring in the context of a domestic dispute, will not be retried until after the conclusion of any and all appeals by the State of Texas.