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 high court refused to hear the case of Bongani Calhoun, a black defendant who was convicted in the drug case, 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. He contended that while he went along on a road trip with friends, he did not know they planned to buy cocaine.
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 at the time to the racial reference, and the issue was not raised in his appeal. For that reason, the court turned away the case. Calhoun was given a 15-year prison term, and his sentence and conviction were upheld.