Aug 31, 2019 Race based jury strikes addressed by Fairfax criminal lawyer
Race-based strikes of jurors is unconstitutional, says Fairfax criminal lawyer
Race-based juror strikes by either party’s lawyer is Constitutionally prohibited. Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). As a Fairfax criminal lawyer, I know the importance for defense lawyers timely to raise well-presented Batson challenges.
Virginia Supreme Court dissent doubts prosecutor’s motive for striking African-American potential juror
The Virginia Supreme Court a few days ago provided a detailed update on how a trial court shall treat Batson / juror race challenges, as discussed further below. Bethea v. Commonwealth of Virginia, ___ Va. ___ (Aug. 28. 2019). What is particularly grabbing about Bethea is actually the dissent’s refusal to mince any words against the majority’s rejection of Bethea’s Batson challenge following Bethea’s Prince William County, Virginia, murder conviction involving a black defendant and white victim:
“The record unequivocally demonstrates that the events that formed the main thrust of the Commonwealth’s race-neutral explanation never happened. The transcript of the voir dire reveals that the Commonwealth’s explanation had no factual basis because 1) it only asked one question where the members of the venire were specifically told to raise their hands and none of the jurors raised their hands in response5 and 2) it never asked the question that it claimed that the juror did not answer. Thus, the Commonwealth’s race-neutral explanation was simply not
true and, once the trial court became aware of this fact, that explanation necessarily lacked any credibility.”
Bethea (Justice Powell dissenting, joined by Justice Mimms).
The Batson three-part approach to determining whether any race-based juror strikes were invalid
Bethea confirms that:
“A Batson challenge involves three sequential steps: (1) the opponent of the strike ‘must make out a prima face case’ of purposeful discrimination; (2) ‘the ‘burden shifts to the State to explain adequately the racial exclusion’ by offering permissible race-neutral justifications for the strikes’; and (3) ‘if a race-neutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must then decide whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful racial discrimination.’ Johnson v. California, 545 U.S. 162, 168 (2005) (alterations and citations omitted).”
Bethea dissent finds significant that defendant’s mistrial resulted from three black jurors voting for acquittal
During jury selection, “Counsel for Bethea then made a Batson challenge, stating: I’m aware of a conversation between [the prosecutor] and . . . Mr. Leahy [listed as being an attorney in the law firm of Bethea’s lawyer- where Mr. Leahy was told that the last time, the jury was nine-to-three to convict, and the three people who voted to acquit
were black and then something about the Black Lives movement.”
Bethea (Justice Powell dissenting).
Dissenting Justice Powell hammers home why Bethea should be granted Batson relief:
“[I]t appears that, having experienced a hung jury in the previous trial, where all three jurors who voted to acquit were African American, the prosecutor was attempting to avoid the possibility of another hung jury. As the Commonwealth failed to offer a valid race neutral explanation for striking the juror at issue here, the only remaining explanation is the one supplied by Bethea’s counsel.”
Fairfax criminal lawyer Jonathan L. Katz pursues winning advocacy against felony, misdemeanor and DUI prosecutions. For a free in-person consultation to discuss your pending criminal court case with Jon Katz, please call 703-383-1100.