Flowers v. Mississippi, No. 17-9572

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtJustice KAVANAUGH delivered the opinion of the Court.
Citation204 L.Ed.2d 638,139 S.Ct. 2228
Parties Curtis Giovanni FLOWERS, Petitioner v. MISSISSIPPI
Decision Date21 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-9572

139 S.Ct. 2228
204 L.Ed.2d 638

Curtis Giovanni FLOWERS, Petitioner
v.
MISSISSIPPI

No. 17-9572

Supreme Court of the United States.

Argued March 20, 2019
Decided June 21, 2019


Sheri Lynn Johnson for the petitioner.

Special Assistant Attorney General Jason Davis for the respondent.

Sheri Lynn Johnson, Counsel of Record, Keir M. Weyble, Cornell Law School, Ithaca, NY, Alison Steiner, Office of the State Public, Defender Capital Defense, Counsel Division, Jackson, MS, for petitioner.

Jim Hood, Attorney General, State of Mississippi, Jason Davis, Counsel of Record, Special Assistant Attorney General, Brad Smith, Special Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Jackson, MI, for respondent.

Justice KAVANAUGH delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), this Court ruled that a State may not discriminate on the basis of race when exercising peremptory challenges against prospective jurors in a criminal trial.

In 1996, Curtis Flowers allegedly murdered four people in Winona, Mississippi. Flowers is black. He has been tried six separate times before a jury for murder. The same lead prosecutor represented the State in all six trials.

139 S.Ct. 2235

In the initial three trials, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed each conviction. In the first trial, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the conviction due to "numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct." Flowers v. State , 773 So.2d 309, 327 (2000). In the second trial, the trial court found that the prosecutor discriminated on the basis of race in the peremptory challenge of a black juror. The trial court seated the black juror. Flowers was then convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court again reversed the conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct at trial. In the third trial, Flowers was convicted, but the Mississippi Supreme Court yet again reversed the conviction, this time because the court concluded that the prosecutor had again discriminated against black prospective jurors in the jury selection process. The court’s lead opinion stated: "The instant case presents us with as strong a prima facie case of racial discrimination as we have ever seen in the context of a Batson challenge." Flowers v. State , 947 So.2d 910, 935 (2007). The opinion further stated that the "State engaged in racially discriminatory practices during the jury selection process" and that the "case evinces an effort by the State to exclude African-Americans from jury service." Id., at 937, 939.

The fourth and fifth trials of Flowers ended in mistrials due to hung juries.

In his sixth trial, which is the one at issue here, Flowers was convicted. The State struck five of the six black prospective jurors. On appeal, Flowers argued that the State again violated Batson in exercising peremptory strikes against black prospective jurors. In a divided 5-to-4 decision, the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. We granted certiorari on the Batson question and now reverse. See 586 U. S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 451, 202 L.Ed.2d 346 (2018).

Four critical facts, taken together, require reversal. First , in the six trials combined, the State employed its peremptory challenges to strike 41 of the 42 black prospective jurors that it could have struck—a statistic that the State acknowledged at oral argument in this Court. Tr. of Oral Arg. 32. Second , in the most recent trial, the sixth trial, the State exercised peremptory strikes against five of the six black prospective jurors. Third , at the sixth trial, in an apparent effort to find pretextual reasons to strike black prospective jurors, the State engaged in dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors. Fourth , the State then struck at least one black prospective juror, Carolyn Wright, who was similarly situated to white prospective jurors who were not struck by the State.

We need not and do not decide that any one of those four facts alone would require reversal. All that we need to decide, and all that we do decide, is that all of the relevant facts and circumstances taken together establish that the trial court committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of black prospective juror Carolyn Wright was not "motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent." Foster v. Chatman , 578 U. S. ––––, ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1737, 1754, 195 L.Ed.2d 1 (2016) (internal quotation marks omitted). In reaching that conclusion, we break no new legal ground. We simply enforce and reinforce Batson by applying it to the extraordinary facts of this case.

We reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Mississippi, and we remand the case for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

I

The underlying events that gave rise to this case took place in Winona, Mississippi.

139 S.Ct. 2236

Winona is a small town in northern Mississippi, just off I–55 almost halfway between Jackson and Memphis. The total population of Winona is about 5,000. The town is about 53 percent black and about 46 percent white.

In 1996, Bertha Tardy, Robert Golden, Derrick Stewart, and Carmen Rigby were murdered at the Tardy Furniture store in Winona. All four victims worked at the Tardy Furniture store. Three of the four victims were white; one was black. In 1997, the State charged Curtis Flowers with murder. Flowers is black. Since then, Flowers has been tried six separate times for the murders. In each of the first two trials, Flowers was tried for one individual murder. In each subsequent trial, Flowers was tried for all four of the murders together. The same state prosecutor tried Flowers each time. The prosecutor is white.

At Flowers’ first trial, 36 prospective jurors—5 black and 31 white—were presented to potentially serve on the jury. The State exercised a total of 12 peremptory strikes, and it used 5 of them to strike the five qualified black prospective jurors. Flowers objected, arguing under Batson that the State had exercised its peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner. The trial court rejected the Batson challenge. Because the trial court allowed the State’s peremptory strikes, Flowers was tried in front of an all-white jury. The jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death.

On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the conviction, concluding that the State had committed prosecutorial misconduct in front of the jury by, among other things, expressing baseless grounds for doubting the credibility of witnesses and mentioning facts that had not been allowed into evidence by the trial judge. Flowers , 773 So.2d at 317, 334. In its opinion, the Mississippi Supreme Court described "numerous instances of prosecutorial misconduct" at the trial. Id., at 327. Because the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed based on prosecutorial misconduct at trial, the court did not reach Flowers’ Batson argument. See Flowers , 773 So.2d at 327.

At the second trial, 30 prospective jurors—5 black and 25 white—were presented to potentially serve on the jury. As in Flowers’ first trial, the State again used its strikes against all five black prospective jurors. But this time, the trial court determined that the State’s asserted reason for one of the strikes was a pretext for discrimination. Specifically, the trial court determined that one of the State’s proffered reasons—that the juror had been inattentive and was nodding off during jury selection—for striking that juror was false, and the trial court therefore sustained Flowers’ Batson challenge. The trial court disallowed the strike and sat that black juror on the jury. The jury at Flowers’ second trial consisted of 11 white jurors and 1 black juror. The jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death.

On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court again reversed. The court ruled that the prosecutor had again engaged in prosecutorial misconduct in front of the jury by, among other things, impermissibly referencing evidence and attempting to undermine witness credibility without a factual basis. See Flowers v. State , 842 So.2d 531, 538, 553 (2003).

At Flowers’ third trial, 45 prospective jurors—17 black and 28 white—were presented to potentially serve on the jury. One of the black prospective jurors was struck for cause, leaving 16. The State exercised a total of 15 peremptory strikes, and it used all 15 against black prospective jurors. Flowers again argued that the State had used its peremptory strikes in a

139 S.Ct. 2237

racially discriminatory manner. The trial court found that the State had not discriminated on the basis of race. See Flowers , 947 So.2d at 916. The jury in Flowers’ third trial consisted of 11 white jurors and 1 black juror. The lone black juror who served on the jury was seated after the State ran out of peremptory strikes. The jury convicted Flowers and sentenced him to death.

On appeal, the Mississippi Supreme Court yet again reversed, concluding that the State had again violated Batson by discriminating on the basis of race in exercising all 15 of its peremptory strikes against 15 black prospective jurors. See Flowers , 947 So.2d at 939. The court’s lead opinion stated: "The instant case...

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245 practice notes
  • People v. Baker, S170280
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 1 Febrero 2021
    ..." ( Armstrong , supra , 6 Cal.5th at p. 766, 243 Cal.Rptr.3d 105, 433 P.3d 987 ; see Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2244, 204 L.Ed.2d 638 ( Flowers ) [" ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent’ "]; Foster v. Chatman (2016) 578 U.S. ––––, 136 S.C......
  • People v. Triplett, B298914
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 1 Mayo 2020
    ...opportunity that most citizens have to participate in the democratic process." ( Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, ––––, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2238, 204 L.Ed.2d 638.) To many people, excluding qualified Black jurors based on their negative experiences with law enforcement or the justic......
  • People v. Miles, S086234
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 28 Mayo 2020
    ...high court has consistently followed this approach to comparative juror analysis. (See Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, –––– [139 S.Ct. 2228, 2248–2249, 204 L.Ed.2d 638] ; Foster v. Chatman (2016) 578 U.S. ––––, –––– [136 S.Ct. 1737, 1750–1754, 195 L.Ed.2d 1] ; Snyder v. Louisia......
  • People v. Baker, S170280
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 1 Febrero 2021
    ..." ( Armstrong , supra , 6 Cal.5th at p. 766, 243 Cal.Rptr.3d 105, 433 P.3d 987 ; see Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2244, 204 L.Ed.2d 638 ( Flowers ) [" ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent’ "]; Foster v. Chatman (2016) 578 U.S. ––––, 136 S.C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
244 cases
  • People v. Baker, S170280
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 1 Febrero 2021
    ..." ( Armstrong , supra , 6 Cal.5th at p. 766, 243 Cal.Rptr.3d 105, 433 P.3d 987 ; see Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2244, 204 L.Ed.2d 638 ( Flowers ) [" ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent’ "]; Foster v. Chatman (2016) 578 U.S. ––––, 136 S.C......
  • People v. Triplett, B298914
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • 1 Mayo 2020
    ...opportunity that most citizens have to participate in the democratic process." ( Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, ––––, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2238, 204 L.Ed.2d 638.) To many people, excluding qualified Black jurors based on their negative experiences with law enforcement or the justic......
  • People v. Miles, S086234
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 28 Mayo 2020
    ...high court has consistently followed this approach to comparative juror analysis. (See Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, –––– [139 S.Ct. 2228, 2248–2249, 204 L.Ed.2d 638] ; Foster v. Chatman (2016) 578 U.S. ––––, –––– [136 S.Ct. 1737, 1750–1754, 195 L.Ed.2d 1] ; Snyder v. Louisia......
  • People v. Baker, S170280
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • 1 Febrero 2021
    ..." ( Armstrong , supra , 6 Cal.5th at p. 766, 243 Cal.Rptr.3d 105, 433 P.3d 987 ; see Flowers v. Mississippi (2019) 588 U.S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2244, 204 L.Ed.2d 638 ( Flowers ) [" ‘motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent’ "]; Foster v. Chatman (2016) 578 U.S. ––––, 136 S.C......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • BEYOND STRICKLAND PREJUDICE: WEAVER, BATSON, AND PROCEDURAL DEFAULT.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 Nbr. 4, March 2022
    • 1 Marzo 2022
    ...(footnotes omitted). (123) Id. at 96. (124) Allen v. Hardy, 478 U.S. 255, 259 (1986) (per curiam). (125) Flowers v. Mississippi, 139 S. Ct. 2228, 2242 (2019) ("Batson sought to protect the rights of defendants and jurors, and to enhance public confidence in the fairness of the criminal just......

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