Court case exposes systemic racism
The Supreme Court recently overturned the death sentence of Timothy Foster after an investigation revealed that his prosecutors were intentionally singling out potential black jurors. Foster, a black man, was originally convicted of murdering an elderly woman in the 1980s and was sentenced to death by an all-white jury in the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The Georgia Open Records Act gives citizens access to records across all government court systems and played a crucial role in overturning Foster’s sentence. Foster was able to access his trial’s paperwork and discovered that the jury venire list had several names highlighted in green with the letter “B” written next to them. People whose names were highlighted were not chosen to be on the jury, which Foster concluded was an act of racism. The prosecutors, however, argued that they had other reasons for excluding them. The Supreme Court found his prosecutors guilty, thus giving Foster the chance to overturn his death sentence and request a new trial.
The fate of these trials is put into the hands of juries and judges whom we can only hope have justice as their best interest. We place power in these courts to determine whether or not someone is innocent or guilty and we trust that they are doing their job fairly.
In the case of Foster, we are shown the darker side of our justice system that often escapes the view of the public and reminds us that courts do not always operate without bias. It is difficult to place our trust in the courts when we are shown instances of clear bias or prejudice, especially in states where the death penalty is legal.
It is too complicated to place the blame of an unfair sentence entirely on a jury since evidence can strongly dictate innocence or guilt regardless of the truth. However, we trust that the people who do make these decisions weigh all known evidence to issue a fair sentence. This trust becomes meaningless when we learn that a jury is constructed out of bias. Ideally, a jury should be diverse in its population to ensure that the sentence is as unanimous as it is fair.
Though Foster’s chance at a new trial is fortunate, it is not the case for many U.S. citizens who have suffered unfair sentences that did not attract attention from the media. Foster’s overturn in court may implore many to reevaluate trials not only handled by state courts, but of all courts throughout the United States. Although varying from state to state, sunshine laws, or laws that allow citizens to request government records be made public, are often the easiest way to find careless injustices.
Determining whether or not Foster should be sentenced to death is up to the legal courts of Georgia. His sentence, however, should not be left up to prosecutors who have purposely singled out potential jurors based on race. Whether or not the results of his previous trials were valid is irrelevant as his jury was not entirely reliable or unbiased. Foster should be entitled to a jury that is diverse, as should all others who are placed before the eyes of the law in any court of the United States.
Though Foster’s chance at a new trial is fortunate, it is not the case for many U.S. citizens who have suffered unfair sentences that have not found media attention. Foster’s overturn in court may implore many to reevaluate trials not only handled by Georgian state courts but of others all courts throughout the United States.
Laws were put into place to ensure that misdeeds do not go unpunished. Those who are charged are innocent until proven guilty, as dictated by our Constitution. Our courts should not be clever instruments for racism but instead should deal justice fairly. Loopholes are hard to curtail in a system where things are easily overlooked merely by negligence. It should be the priority of anyone involved in the justice system to make sure a trial is conducted fairly and quickly, especially when citizens are allowed the opportunity to review records for themselves.