People v. Austin, 2017 IL App (1st) 142737 (April). Episode 342. (Duration 17:15)
Fact that multiple jurors of the same race have been stricken, without more, does not raise a prima facia case for a Batson violation.
He and a codefendant stole a car and some items at gunpoint from a lady.
A jury convicted Defendant of armed robbery, aggravated vehicular hijacking, and aggravated assault.
After a bench trial on an armed habitual criminal charge, the trial court found Austin guilty of the lesser-included charge of unlawful use of weapon (UUW) by a felon.
During voir dire, the State used three peremptory challenges to exclude prospective jurors.
Defense counsel challenged the State’s peremptory removal of two black venirepersons.
In addition, the State excused a third prospective juror, who was not black.
Three black venirepersons were accepted to serve on the jury.
The third juror stricken was not black but had four prior convictions.
No Prima Facie Case
Without the defendant making a prima facie showing that the prosecution exercised peremptory challenges based on race, the trial court asked the State to provide race-neutral reasons for striking the two black jurors.
The prosecutor pointed out that the defense had “not made a prima facie showing,” to which the court replied, “I’m not sure they have either, but tell me the reason.”
The prosecutor then stated that one of the excluded venirepersons had a domestic battery conviction that he did not disclose (the venireperson had been arrested 19 years earlier for domestic battery and the charges were dropped). The prosecutor told the court the other black venireperson had “indicated several things that her brother (actually, brother-in-law) was a CPD police officer that was beat up by Calumet Park Police Officers.
She says she reads the Bible.
She says she is a youth minister.
Those are all the reasons where the State struck her.”
Makes It Easier
When the trial court asked defense counsel if he had anything else to argue, defense counsel responded “No, Judge.” The State attempted to put on the record that the defense did not make a prima facie showing, to which the trial court replied, “I’m not saying that they did. We just went a little quicker to get that out of the way” and “I’m not accusing anybody of anything. It just makes it quicker to get it done.
The reasons you gave I think are more than sufficient easily.” The trial court reiterated that one had a prior conviction he did not disclose and the other “the situation with the police.”
Moments later, the trial court stated, “I wasn’t giving the parties a hard time about that race-neutral stuff. There is no issue in my mind that there was a prima facie case. I just jumped it forward to save a little time. There was no issue in my mind of any discrimination whatsoever. So let’s move on.”
Batson 3-Step Rule
A prosecution’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude prospective jurors based on race violates a defendant’s right to equal protection under the fourteenth amendment. Kentucky v. Batson, 476 U.S. 79, 89 (1986).
In a criminal trial the Batson Rule established a three-step process for addressing alleged racially discriminatory use of peremptory challenges. People v. Rivera, 221 Ill. 2d 481, 500 (2006).
First, Batson requires the trial court to determine whether the defendant has established a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination.
Once a prima facie case is shown, the State has the burden to articulate a nondiscriminatory, race-neutral explanation based on the facts of the case.
Then, considering the State’s explanation, the trial court makes a final determination as to whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination.
The Factors To Raising A Prima Facie Case
Our supreme court has articulated several relevant factors a trial court should consider in determining whether a prima facie Batson violation has been established, including:
(i) the racial identity between the party exercising the peremptory challenge and the excluded venirepersons;
(ii) a pattern of strikes;
(iii) disproportionate use of peremptory challenges;
(iv) the level of black representation in the venire as compared to the jury;
(v) the prosecutor’s questions and statements of the challenging party during voir dire examination and while exercising peremptory challenges;
(vi) whether the excluded black venirepersons were a heterogeneous group sharing race as their only common characteristic; and
(vii) the race of the defendant, victim, and witnesses.
More On The Prima Facie Case
Any ambiguities in the record will be construed against the party asserting the claim.
The party attempting to exercise a peremptory challenge is not required to provide race neutral reasons for the exercise of its peremptory challenge if a prima facie case of purposeful racial discrimination has not been demonstrated.
The burden of establishing a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in jury selection is on the party making the Batson claim.
By definition, a prima facie case entails the establishment of a legally required rebuttable presumption or a party’s production of enough evidence to allow the fact-trier to infer the fact at issue and rule in the party’s favor.
Collapsing The Inquiry
The problem with collapsing the inquiry is that if the State were allowed to interrupt the prima facie hearing stage by obtaining judicial consideration of its explanations even though they would be insufficient to overcome an already established prima facie case, those explanations would constitute a thumb on the scales that weigh the prima facie submission, which would undermine the very concept of a prima facie case as outlined in Batson.
Here, the trial judge stated there was “no issue in my mind” regarding “any discrimination whatsoever” and skipped the initial prima facie stage to “move things along.”
Had the factors relevant to a prima facie showing of discriminatory use of peremptory challenges been examined, the inquiry would have gone no further.
The record does not reflect that defense counsel relied on anything other than the number of peremptories used by the State against prospective black jurors, a relevant factor that standing alone is not sufficient to make out a prima facie Batson violation.
Pattern of discrimination not demonstrated “anytime a party strikes more than one juror of any race.
Further, when a Batson claim is made regarding discrimination against a particular race, 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.
Indeed, by the time defense counsel raised his Batson challenge, three black jurors had already been accepted by the State.
Given this circumstance, at a minimum, the trial court should have required Austin’s counsel to articulate in more detail the basis for his Batson challenge.
But, when given the opportunity to elaborate further, defense counsel declined.
Failing a showing of factors other than the number of peremptories used against black members of the venire, there was no prima facie showing of a Batson violation and the State should not have been required to articulate any reason for striking those jurors.
Any error in a trial court’s finding of a prima facie showing of a Batson violation is generally rendered moot by a later finding, as here, that no purposeful discrimination has occurred.
Given the seriousness of a Batson challenge and the potential for depriving a defendant of a fair trial, strict adherence to Batson’s mandate should be maintained.
Because Austin failed to meet his burden to demonstrate a prima facie Batson violation, we reject his contention of error on this ground.