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Miller-El v. Cockrell

537 U.S. 322 (2003)

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Miller-El v. Cockrell

United States Supreme Court

537 U.S. 322 (2003)

Facts

In 1986, a jury sentenced Thomas Miller-El (defendant) to death for a robbery-murder. At all relevant trial and postconviction proceedings, Miller-El claimed that the state unconstitutionally struck Black venirepersons from his jury panel. Twenty of 108 venirepersons were Black; after nine of those Black venirepersons were excused, the prosecution used 10 of its 14 peremptory strikes on the 11 remaining Black venirepersons. The prosecutors’ disparate questioning of Black and White venirepersons elicited skewed responses about the death penalty and minimum sentencing. The prosecutors’ jury-shuffling tactics increased the likelihood that Black venirepersons were dismissed from jury duty before they were questioned. Miller-El also presented substantial evidence that the Dallas district attorney’s office trained prosecutors to strike people of color from jury panels. Miller-El’s trial prosecutors claimed that they struck Black venirepersons based on the venirepersons’ ambivalence about the death penalty and family members with criminal histories. Miller-El responded that the prosecutors did not strike two White jurors who expressed death-penalty ambivalence and four White jurors who had family members with criminal histories. After exhausting his state-court remedies, Miller-El filed a federal habeas petition, asserting that the racist jury-selection practices violated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The federal district court denied Miller-El’s petition and his application for a certificate of appealability (COA). The appellate court affirmed the denial of the COA. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether a COA should have issued.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)

Concurrence (Scalia, J.)

Dissent (Thomas, J.)

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