Thursday, April 25, 2013
Panel Overturns New Trial Order Based on Race-Bias Finding
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
An order that would have granted a new trial to a man convicted of receiving stolen property, based on a finding that a prosecutor improperly used peremptory challenges to exclude four African Americans from the jury, was overturned yesterday by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The panel reversed U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen of the Central District of California, who had granted a habeas corpus petition brought by Keith Jamerson. Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, writing for the Ninth Circuit, said the district judge was insufficiently deferential to the state trial court’s findings, including its determinations of the prosecutor’s credibility.
Jamerson was charged after California Highway Patrol officers found him sitting in a truck stopped on a highway exit ramp. Jamerson claimed the truck was his and asked the officers to help him move it, but the officers noticed that a window was broken and glass was scattered on the passenger seat and floorboard.
A records check revealed that the vehicle was registered in someone else’s name, and the officers discovered that Jameson did not have a key and that the vehicle was started without one. The defendant was charged with unlawful taking of a vehicle—that charge was dismissed after jurors deadlocked—and the receiving count on which he was convicted.
On appeal, he argued that the striking of eight jurors—two of them Hispanic and six of them black—violated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) and People v. Wheeler, 583 P.2d 748 (Cal. 1978).
The Court of Appeal affirmed, rejecting the defense argument that it should conduct a comparative juror analysis—California law at the time precluded such analysis for the first time on appeal—and the state Supreme Court denied review.
On habeas corpus, Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Wistrich conducted a comparative analysis and found that four of the black panelists were stricken for reasons that could also have been applied to white jurors who were allowed to remain, undermining the trial and appellate courts’ findings that those reasons were non-pretextual and race-neutral.
One of the four was stricken because he and the defendant had in common the fact that each had suffered serious health problems—the venire member hepatitis and the defendant a condition that required him to walk with a cane; two because they had family members who had served prison time and because they or family members had been victims of unsolved crimes; and one because she was a postal worker.
Nguyen granted the magistrate’s recommendation that Jamerson be given a new trial.
O’Scannlain, however, said the four stricken panelists were not so similarly situated to seated white jurors as to justify overturning the state trial and appellate court rulings.
Federal review in this situation, he explained, is “doubly deferential”—the trial court’s ruling must be upheld if supported by substantial evidence, and the appeals court’s ruling that the evidence was substantial must be upheld unless objectively unreasonable.
Not Very Persuasive
O’Scannlain acknowledged that the prosecutor lacked an “overwhelmingly persuasive” argument for striking “Juror #3117D,” the black postal worker, when she said “I just have terrible experiences with postal workers,” especially since she ultimately accepted a white postal worker on the jury.
But the trial judge’s findings that the black woman’s facial expressions supported the prosecutor’s hesitancy to put her on the jury, and the fact that the white postal worker was accepted only after the prosecutor learned that the alternative would have been to put jury selection over another day, meant that that the state court was not “unreasonable in crediting her explanation as genuine, particularly affording the double deference due to the state trial court’s ruling.”
The opinion was joined by Senior Judge Dorothy W. Nelson and by Senior District Judge James Singleton of the District of Alaska, sitting by designation.
The case was argued in the Ninth Circuit by Deputy Attorney General David A. Wildman for the prosecution and Deputy Federal Public Defender Brianna J. Fuller for the defendant.
The case is Jamerson v. Runnels, 12-56064.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company