In Foster v. Chatman, the judges' justification for their decision — a 7-1 ruling in favor of overturning the sentence — cited racial discrimination. According to the decision, prosecutors successfully obstructed black people from becoming part of the jury for Foster's trial.
When he was 18, Foster was accused of killing a 79-year-old white woman. The prosecution used "peremptory strikes" to exclude black jurors. Both the prosecution and defense are awarded a certain number of peremptory strikes, which allow them to dismiss a potential juror without providing a reason.
"During jury selection at his trial, the State used peremptory challenges to strike all four black prospective jurors qualified to serve on the jury," the justices wrote. "... The focus on race in the prosecution's file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury," it added.
Documents from 1986, newly discovered, included information about jury candidates. In these documents, the prosecution circled a candidate's race only when it read "black." In their notes, the black potential jurors were ranked, naming them "B#1," "B#2" and "B#3," Slate reports. This was done in case "it comes down to having to pick one of the black jurors," according to the prosecution.
Foster's victory could well have wider legal ramifications on the justice system, which many regard as systemically racist. While blacks only account for 13% of the American population, they make up more than a third of the nation's inmates. A black person in the U.S. is six times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person.
The SCOTUS ruling reaffirms, in no uncertain terms, that racially motivated jury selection is unconstitutional.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.