Sotomayor blasts Texas prosecutor's use of race

Posted Monday, Feb. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Texas

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WASHINGTON -- Justice Sonia Sotomayor strongly objected Monday to a Texas prosecutor's reference to the race of the defendants as an argument to convince a jury they were involved in a drug deal.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the case of Bongani Calhoun, a black defendant who was convicted, but Sotomayor wrote an unusual statement to "dispel any doubt" that turning away his appeal would "signal our tolerance of a federal prosecutor's racially charged remark. It should not."

Calhoun was arrested with several other men and charged with taking part in a drug conspiracy.

The prosecutor told the jury that the men were together in a hotel room. "You've got African-Americans, you've got Hispanics, you've got a bag full of money. Does that tell you -- a light bulb doesn't go off in your head and say, 'This is a drug deal?'"

Calhoun's lawyer did not object to the racial reference, and the issue was not raised in his appeal. For that reason, the court turned away the case.

But Sotomayor wrote a separate statement, joined by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, to voice her objection. She said the "prosecutor here tapped a deep and sorry vein of racial prejudice that has run through the history of criminal justice in our nation. ... It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this base tactic more than a decade into the 21stCentury."

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