In re A.S., 2016 IL App (1st) 161259 (October). Episode 255 (Duration 12:42)
Because the stage-two and stage-three Batson hearing in this case may have been influenced by the trial court’s demonstrably incorrect view of the law remand for further proceedings was ordered.
In this jury selection the state used 4 of its 5 peremptory challenges to strike African Americans.
- One was a social worker
- One lady had her house surrounded by police when they arrested her son for robbery,
- Another lady was a social worker who worked with homeless people from East Garfield Park and she had an attempted robbery from the early 1960’s and a criminal trespass in the 70’s, and finally
- The last lady was struck because she did not disclose a 39 year old theft conviction that she said she forgot about.
Defense counsel pointed out there were white social workers and white jurors with criminal backgrounds that were not stricken by the State.
They tried to distinguish between the seriousness of the offenses.
Batson’s three-step process for addressing alleged discriminatory use of peremptory challenges is well-settled.
First, it is the defendant’s burden to make a prima facie showing that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of race.
Second, once a defendant makes out a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the prosecution to articulate a race-neutral reason for excluding each dismissed juror, which “need not rise to the level justifying exercise of a challenge for cause.” Also at the second stage, defendant is afforded the opportunity to argue that the State’s proffered reasons for striking particular members of the venire are pretextual.
At the third stage, the trial court makes the ultimate determination of whether the party opposing the challenge has made the required showing of purposeful discrimination. At this stage, it is the trial court’s responsibility to undertake a sincere and reasoned attempt to evaluate the prosecutor’s explanations in light of the circumstances of the case. In addition to considering the stated reasons offered by the prosecutor, the court evaluates the prosecutor’s demeanor, which reviewing courts have recognized entails credibility determinations.
Prima Facie Case
The question of whether or not a prima facie case of discrimination was even raised is an interesting one here.
The record does not reflect that the court relied on anything other than the number of peremptories used by the State against prospective black jurors, a factor that, while relevant, is not, standing alone, sufficient to make out a prima facie Batson violation.
The law is clear that the number of black members of venire peremptorily challenged, without more, not sufficient to establish prima facie case of discrimination.
A pattern of discrimination is not demonstrated anytime a party strikes more than one juror of any race.
Evidence of a pattern of discriminatory strikes is one factor a court should consider when determining whether the party challenging the peremptory strike has established a prima facie case under Batson, it is not a dispositive factor.
However, it is also true that exclusion of just one venireperson on account of race is unconstitutional and requires reversal of the conviction. The question comes down to whether or not you have the facts to prove discrimination.
Here are the relevant factors a trial court should consider in determining whether a prima facie Batson violation has been established:
(1) The racial identity between the party exercising the peremptory challenge and the excluded venirepersons;
(2) A pattern of strikes against African-American venirepersons;
(3) Disproportionate use of peremptory challenges against African American venirepersons;
(4) The level of African-American representation in the venire as compared to the jury;
(5) The prosecutor’s questions and statements of the challenging party during voir dire examination and while exercising peremptory challenges;
(6) Whether the excluded African-American venirepersons were a heterogeneous group sharing race as their only common characteristic;
(7) The race of the defendant, victim, and witnesses; and
(8) The unchallenged presence of jurors of that race on the seated jury is a factor properly considered and tends to weaken the basis for a prima facie case of discrimination.
The reviewing court found there was clearly a pattern of strikes by the prosecution against black members of the venire raising a prima facie case for a violation. The State exercised three peremptories in a row against prospective black jurors on the first day of jury selection, resulting in the dismissal of every black member of the venire questioned thus far.
Stage Two: Race Neutral Reasons
The state asked very little questions of them. It appeared that these three members of the venire were a heterogeneous group sharing race as their only common characteristic. Defendant was black and the victim of the residential burglary was white.
Stage Three: Judge’s Evaluation
The problem here is that it does not appear that the trial court conducted a fair evaluation of the State’s proffered reasons for excluding the jury members.
This evaluation must be done in the context of the jury selection process and must take into account the State’s demeanor and credibility for their stated professor.
The court simply did not further evaluate the circumstances before declaring the State’s reason race-neutral. In effect, the court terminated the Batson process at stage two.
More troubling was the fact that the trial court appeared to embellish the facts while it defended the State’s exercise of a peremptory challenges. This was not its job to do. It was not appropriate for the court itself to establish some rational basis for the State of Illinois not to want this person.
Because the record in this case revealed that the trial court usurped the State’s role at stage two and failed to conduct a stage three Batson hearing remand for further proceedings is required.
Reversed, but a new trial was not ordered. Instead the trial judge must complete the state 2 and stage 3 requirements of Batson.