GREENVILLE • Even as a Mississippi prosecutor considers whether to try a man a seventh time for the same crime, he also wants a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed against him by an NAACP branch.
Doug Evans, the state’s fifth circuit district attorney, filed a motion in federal court on Dec. 23 asking a judge to dismiss a class action lawsuit brought against him by the Attala County branch of the NAACP and four other black plaintiffs. The lawsuit asks the federal courts to supervise a potential jury selection process Evans may be involved in.
“Evans took office in 1992, and since that time, he and his assistants have employed a policy, custom, or usage of discriminatorily striking Black jurors with peremptory challenges,” the lawsuit reads. “If a Black prospective juror is not successfully challenged for cause, there is a 50 percent chance that Evans’ office will strike him or her with a peremptory challenge. If the prospective juror is white, the strike rate falls to 11 percent.”
The trial in question is the case of Curtis Giovanni Flowers, who has been incarcerated for more than 20 years and has been accused of murdering four people at a furniture store in Winona. Evans has prosecuted Flowers six different times. Each trial has either ended in a hung jury or has been overturned by a higher court after receiving a conviction.
The latest conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June, which ruled in a 7-2 majority opinion that Evans’ office intentionally struck black people from serving on the jury. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is often associated with the more conservative wing of the Court, wrote in the majority opinion that the jury selection numbers “speak loudly.”
“The State’s relentless, determined effort to rid the jury of black individuals strongly suggests that the State wanted to try Flowers before a jury with as few black jurors as possible, and ideally before an all-white jury,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh in the majority opinion.
Evans’ response, filed by Special Assistant Attorney General Douglas T. Miracle, says that an injunction of this magnitude would circumvent the state trial court’s initial jurisdiction on the matter.
“Under these circumstances, the Court should abstain because the relief sought ‘opens the door to ongoing federal court intrusion into the operation of state criminal proceedings,’” the dismissal motion reads.
The Attorney General's Office declined to comment to the Daily Journal because the issue involved pending litigation.
The main concern at the center of the lawsuit is the issue of peremptory challenges.
A peremptory challenge is when an attorney removes someone from a jury pool and does not have to give a specific reason for striking the person. However, in the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court case Batson v. Kentucky, the nation’s highest court ruled that attorneys cannot strike a person from serving on a jury solely on the basis of race.
Evans or a representative from his office in Grenada did not immediately respond to a request for comment by the Daily Journal. However, in a recent interview with investigative podcast “In the Dark,” Evans has rebuffed the jury statistics and has said the outlet’s statistics were “nothing but a lie.”
“I don’t think the U.S. Supreme Court would have ruled that if it hadn’t been for the lies in the podcast because the defense put a lot of the podcast stuff into their motion without me being up there to explain that to them.”
The podcast has said that Evans has declined to discuss the outlet’s numbers with them. Evans has said little publicly about the Flowers case and the federal lawsuit levied against him
Christopher Kemmit, senior counsel for the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund, is an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the class action suit. He previously told the Daily Journal that while the Supreme Court did establish that Evans kept black people from serving on the jury, he is asking the federal court district to enforce and monitor the Court’s ruling.
“Evans is functionally saying that black citizens of the fifth judicial district are second class citizens,” Kemmit said.
Kemmit said he hopes the federal court can force Evans to show and document that he is abiding by the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Court Judge Debra Brown granted the plaintiffs an extension to respond to the motion to dismiss. As the court record currently stands, the plaintiffs have until Feb. 3 to respond to the motion.