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It's not often for the Supreme Court to make a comment when it denies cert to a case. But when the Supremes refused to hear Bongani Calhoun's drug conspiracy case from the Western District of Texas, Sonia Sotomayor didn't like a racially-charged statement made by one of the prosecutors. In fact, she was so upset by it that she gave the prosecutor both barrels.
The prosecutor–whom Sotomayor refused to name–said during cross-examination of a drug conspiracy case: "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?"
Sotomayor, the only Hispanic on the high court, agreed with the majority that the appeal should be rejected for a variety of procedural reasons, but was nevertheless adamant on her larger point.
"It is deeply disappointing to see a representative of the United States resort to this basic tactic more than a decade into the 21st century," she said. "We expect the government to seek justice, not fan the flames of fear and prejudice."
Read the full statement here. Stephen Breyer signed it as well.
Coleman was convicted of taking part in a drug buy, and was caught in a sting set up by DEA agents in a hotel room. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On cross-examination prosecutor repeatedly hammered Coleman over his denials that he didn't want to be there, and didn't know it was a drug buy. During cross, the prosecutor not only said that blacks, Hispanics and a bunch of money changing hands usually meant a drug deal, but that when "these people" are in a hotel room with a bunch of money there's nothing legitimate going on. The defense never objected. Coleman appealed, claiming that the prosecutor's remarks prejudiced the jury against him.
Sotomayor also objected to the Justice Department merely calling the remarks "impolitic." The solicitor general subsequently called them "unquestionably improper"--though even that characterization is too tepid in my book.
I would hope that the U.S. Attorney over there, Robert Pitman, will give this prosecutor an earful--if not his walking papers.
4:13 PM PT: Lost and Found mentions in the comments that according to the San Antonio Express-News, the prosecutor's name is Sam Ponder. He claims that was merely trying to establish the "totality of the scenario," and never intended to inject race into it. Yeah, OK.