The Court of Appeals in Haney v. U.S., decided on April 25, 2019, reversed and remanded the defendant’s weapons’ conviction based on the government’s peremptory jury strikes disproportionately excluded black jurors and black male from the jury pool.
It is well established according to Batson rule that purposeful and intentional discrimination based on race or gender in the exercise of peremptory challenges is strictly prohibited.
The Supreme Court had articulated in Batson a three-step process for analyzing discriminatory claims:
- There must be a prima facie showing that a peremptory challenge has been exercised due to race or gender;
- The prosecution then must rebut or provide a race-neutral basis exercising the peremptory strike;
- The trial court then must analyze the submissions by the parties and determine if the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination.
The burden of persuasion and proof rests with the moving party opposing the strike showing that the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose.
Applying the Batson guidelines, here the prosecutor had used used seven out of nine (or 78%) of her peremptory challenges to strike black jurors.
The entire venire consisted of only fourteen black jurors out of thirty-six, and the prosecutor had used six of her peremptory challenges to strike black males one after another. Thus, the trial record revealed a sizable statistical disparity directed at discriminatory impact against black jurors. Prima facie case of discrimination was met and the first element satisfied.
Although the prosecutor provided a race neutral explanation as to why the first five strikes, the trial court did not go beyond the facial cursory explanation and moreover did not even analyzed or rule on the third factor required by Baxton.
That is, the third prong requires the defendant to prove that the race-neutral reason offered by the prosecutor is pretextual.
The Court ruled that trial court should have evaluated as to
1) whether the prosecutor’s demeanor hints to a discriminatory intent, and also
2) whether the juror’s demeanor can credibly be said to have exhibited the basis for the strike attributed to the juror by the prosecutor.
It appears that the trial court never completed the third step analysis, that is the circumstantial and direct evidence of the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes.
Nor was there a rigorous evaluation by the trial court as to the credibility of the prosecutor’s explanations for the challenged peremptory strikes.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for new trial finding that substantial constitutional rights of the defendant was violated as not a single black juror was empaneled during the jury selection process.
Refer to our Washington DC Criminal Defense Lawyer page for more detailed content on DC Criminal Law subject matters.
Contact our Washington DC Criminal Lawyer to schedule an initial case evaluation.