Wednesday, December 5, 2001
Court of Appeal, Citing Racial Bias in Jury Selection, Orders New Trial in Central Valley Murder Case
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A Tulare Superior Court judge committed reversible error by accepting a prosecutor’s “vague explanation,” unsupported by the record, for excusing a Hispanic woman as a potential juror in a murder case, the Fifth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The court Monday ordered a new trial for John and Julian Reynoso, brothers convicted of the 1998 killing of Mario Martinez. Martinez and the Reynosos were guests at the home of another person and became embroiled in a quarrel before Martinez was killed by a blast from a shotgun.
The quarrel, witnesses said, began earlier in the evening when Martinez refused to do anything about an incident outside the house in which another man threw a bottle at Martinez’s car while the Reynosos were outside. Later, they argued when the Reynosos tried to prevent Martinez from using a bathroom that could only be entered through a bedroom occupied by the brothers.
John Reynoso admitted the shooting, but claimed he was in fear that Martinez was going to kill his brother. Julian Martinez’s defense was that he had nothing to do with the shooting.
Jurors found both brothers guilty of first degree murder. But Justice Steve Vartabedian, writing Monday for the Court of Appeal, said that Judge Joseph Kalashian should have granted the defendants a mistrial based on racial bias in jury selection.
The defendants, the justice noted, were tried by a jury without a single Hispanic member after two Hispanics were stricken by the prosecution.
Kalashian found that the two strikes established a prima facie case of racial bias and required the prosecutor to explain, as required by People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258.
The prosecutor said he struck the first woman, identified only as Mrs. Lopez, because she was employed counseling at-risk youth and “would have an undue sympathy for both defendants in this case because they are young and definitely if not at risk, past risk.”
The second juror, Mrs. Guerrero, explained that she was a customer service representative, married to a construction supervisor. She had never been the victim of a crime, never served as a juror before, and had never worked in law enforcement, but had a friend on the Porterville Police Department and a brother who was a correctional officer, she said.
She was stricken, the prosecutor explained, because of her occupation and because “she did not have enough educational experience,” “was not paying attention to the proceedings,” “was not involved in the process,” and “would not be a good juror.”
Kalashian found that the jurors were excused for reasons “not based upon race or ethnicity” and denied the mistrial motions.
Vartabedian, however, found that the prosecutor’s explanations were inadequate to rebut the prima facie showing of racial bias.
It was speculative, the justice reasoned, to assume that Guerrero was uneducated because she worked in customer service, or to assume that her supposed lack of education would make her less prosecution-oriented under the circumstances of the case.
“[T]he record here does not engender confidence in a finding that the trial court engaged in a sincere and reasoned attempt to evaluate the prosecutor’s justification for challenging Guerrero,” the justice concluded.
The case is People v. Reynoso, 01 S.O.S. 5750.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company