Tuesday, March 22, 2011
U.S. Supreme Court Revives Conviction of Sacramento Rapist
Justices Unanimously Reverse Ninth Circuit Panel, Calling Its Ruling ‘Inexplicable’
By SHERRI M. OKAMOTO, Staff Writer
The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday threw out a decision by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to grant habeas corpus relief to a Sacramento-area rapist.
In a five-page per curiam opinion reinstating Steven Jackson’s conviction, the justices said there was “simply no basis” for the federal appellate court’s 2010 ruling that the jury selection process at Jackson’s trial had been tainted by racial bias.
After Jackson accused the prosecutor of exercising peremptory challenges to exclude blacks from sitting as jurors, the prosecutor said he excused the first of the two black prospective jurors out of concern the juror might harbor animosity towards law enforcement based on the juror’s statement that he felt California police officers frequently stopped him because of his race and age. The prosecutor said he dismissed the second juror because she held a master’s degree in social work and he did not “like to keep social workers” on juries.
The trial judge credited the prosecutor’s stated motivations and a jury—which contained one black juror—later convicted Jackson of several sex offenses stemming from an attack on a 72-year-old woman living in his apartment complex.
Racial Bias Claim
The California Court of Appeal also rejected Jackson’s racial bias claim and the state high court declined to grant review. Jackson then sought federal habeas relief, which the district judge denied.
Last April, however, a Ninth Circuit panel comprised of Judges Mary Schroeder, Johnnie B. Rawlinson and a district judge from Arizona reversed Bryan in a three-paragraph unpublished memorandum opinion. The panel concluded “[t]he prosecutor’s proffered race-neutral bases for peremptorily striking the two African-American jurors were not sufficient to counter the evidence of purposeful discrimination in light of the fact that two out of three prospective African-American jurors were stricken, and the record reflected different treatment of comparably situated jurors.”
The Supreme Court yesterday said this ruling “is as inexplicable as it is unexplained.” The justices complained of the “dismissive manner” in which the appellate court had addressed the matter, noting the Ninth Circuit panel “did not discuss any specific facts or mention the reasoning of the other three courts that had rejected Jackson’s claim,” and only “offered a one-sentence conclusory explanation for its decision.”
Contrary to AEDPA
The Ninth Circuit’s treatment of the state courts’ ruling, the justices said, is contrary to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act’s limitation of federal habeas corpus to cases in which state courts have ruled contrary to clearly established federal law, or unreasonably applied such law.
Since the trial court in Jackson’s case had credited the prosecutor’s race-neutral explanations, and the state appellate court “carefully reviewed the record at some length” and “was plainly not unreasonable” in upholding the trial court’s findings, the high court’s justices said “[t]here was simply no reason for the Ninth Circuit to reach the opposite conclusion.”
The case is Felkner v. Jackson, 10–797.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company