First U.S. Supreme Court Criminal Case Decided in Favor of Defendant in Capital Case.

In a case that has narrow applicability for other cases, the Court held the 11th Circuit’s decision to deny a Certificate of Applicability in a federal habeas corpus proceeding that the death row prisoner here failed to show prejudice was error.

In this case, the defendant was charged and tried for murder and sentenced to death. Lawyers for Tharpe interviewed a juror who made some really disturbing statements showing racial animus towards African Americans.

In State proceedings, the State judge concluded that this juror did not make his decision to sentence Tharp to death based on his race. Tharp went into federal court, and the federal District Court judge found these claims were procedurally defaulted. Tharp sought a Certificate of Appealability to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which the 11th Circuit denied, rulng that Tharpe had “failed to demonstrate that the juror’s behavior ‘had substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury’s verdict.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed, noting that, in light of the disturbing statements that the juror made in his affidavit, that there should be more proceedings on whether Tharp is entitled to that Certificate in light of the fact that he satisfied his burden regarding prejudice.

The case is Tharp v. Sellers.

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