The honor and privilege of jury service is as critical to full participation in our democracy as the right to vote. When prosecutors systematically exclude Black Americans from serving on criminal juries, they not only undermine an accused person’s right to a fair and impartial trial, they also violate the right of all Black Americans to enjoy full citizenship. Despite this, the office of District Attorney Doug Evans has spent the past quarter-century excluding Black Mississippians from jury service in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
On November 18, 2019, a group of Black citizens who are eligible to serve on juries in Evans’ district filed a class-action lawsuit – Attala County NAACP v. Evans. The lawsuit asks the federal district court to stop Evans and his office from using the power of their office to wrongfully exclude Black jurors from criminal juries. According to an American Public Media Reports (APM Reports) analysis, over the course of his tenure, Evans’ office struck Black jurors 4.4 times more frequently than White jurors. When controlling for race-neutral factors which might influence a strike, the rate is more alarming – prospective Black jurors were 6.7 times more likely to be struck than white jurors.
Attala was filed on the heels of Flowers v. Mississippi, a U.S. Supreme Court case concerning District Attorney Doug Evans’ efforts to exclude Black people from jury service in the case of Curtis Flowers, a Black man, who was sentenced to death by a nearly all-white jury. The Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus brief in the case, detailing the District’s long, disturbing history of denying Black people the right to serve on a fair jury. The Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center similarly filed an amicus brief condemning racially discriminatory jury selection. The Court reversed Mr. Flowers’ 2010 conviction and death sentence, declaring, “Equal justice under law requires a criminal trial free of racial discrimination in the jury selection process.”
Prior to the Supreme Court case, Curtis Flowers faced six trials for the same charge. Each of these trials involved troubling racial overtones and resulted in either hung juries or convictions that were reversed because of prosecutorial misconduct. Over the course of these six trials, Doug Evans—the lead prosecutor in Mr. Flowers’ trials—removed 41 of 43 possible Black jurors and struck Black jurors 20 times more frequently than their white counterparts. These jury strikes violated not only Mr. Flowers’ rights as the accused but also the fundamental rights of each individual Black juror who was excluded from jury service because of their race.
Attala County NAACP v. Evans seeks to end Evans’ and his office’s racially discriminatory jury selection practices and ensure that Black prospective jurors enjoy the same democratic rights as the white citizens in his district.