Batson Challenge Results in New Trial

The case highlights the importance of a New York Criminal Defense Attorney preserving the record and properly exercising juror challenges because, as was the case here, even a seemingly innocuous statement and position by the New York Assistant District Attorney trying the case can result in a reversal. The situation is such that the Criminal Defendant and two other individuals go to a strip club where the Criminal Defendant drinks and pays for a lap dance. Evidently upset at the quality of the dance, a scuffle ensues. The accusation is that the Defendant assaulted another resulting in serious bodily injury.

Here, the record reflects that the People sought to exercise peremptory challenges to exclude four of the five nonwhite individuals comprising the second panel of prospective trial jurors. Indeed, as defense counsel noted, “The only [nonwhite juror] who was not excluded [from this panel] was the daughter-in-law of the former Chief of Police of the Albany Police Department.” In response to defense counsel’s Batson challenge, County Court asked the People — “based upon the peremptory challenges” asserted — to “give a race-neutral reason…for th[o]se selections,” thereby implicitly finding that defendant had made a prima facie showing of discrimination. The People provided such an explanation as to prospective juror Nos. 4, 6 and 17 but refused to offer a race-neutral explanation as to prospective juror No. 2, noting that this juror was the first nonwhite juror that they had sought to exclude by use of a peremptory challenge. As the prosecuting attorney succinctly put it, “I shouldn’t be made to give a reason for the first one.” Defense counsel took issue with the People’s lack of a raceneutral explanation for the exclusion of this juror, noting that “the fact that [prospective juror No. 2] was the first person of color [to be] excluded [was]…merely fortuitous.” County Court rejected defendant’s argument on this point and allowed the People to exercise a peremptory challenge to exclude prospective juror No. 2, as well as prospective juror Nos. 4 and 6.

The foregoing stance — that the People were not required to provide a race-neutral explanation for seeking to exclude prospective juror No. 2 because she was the first person of color upon whom the People sought to exercise a peremptory challenge — is simply wrong. “The purpose of the Batson rule is to eliminate discrimination, not minimize it” (People v. Bolling, 79 NY2d 317, 321 [1992]). Accordingly, because “[t]he exclusion of any [nonwhite prospective jurors] solely because of their race is constitutionally forbidden” (id. at 321 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]), a defendant asserting a Batson challenge need not show a pattern of discrimination. “Although as part of their prima facie case parties often rely on numbers to show a pattern of strikes against a particular group of jurors, a prima facie case may be made based on the peremptory challenge of a single juror that gives rise to an inference of discrimination” (People v. Smocum, 99 NY2d 418, 421-422 [2003]; see People v. Morgan, 75 AD3d 1050, 1053 [2010], lv denied 15 NY3d 894 [2010]).

(quotation marks omitted and internal citations preserved). The Court finds that the “County Court implicitly concluded that defendant had made a prima facie showing of discrimination as to all four of the jurors in question, and the burden then shifted to the People to provide race-neutral explanations for all four — not just three — of the nonwhite prospective jurors against whom the People asserted peremptory challenges. Given the People’s failure to provide — and County Court’s failure to require — such an explanation as to all four prospective jurors, defendant is entitled to a new trial.”

The Case is People v. Jones, 106477, NYLJ 1202750383008, at *1 (App. Div., 3rd, Decided February 18, 2016);

Right to Counsel; Driving While Intoxicated Cases: Suppression; Batson; Appellate Work; Criminal Defense- Call the Law Offices of Cory H. Morris, 631-450-2515 (NYS) | (954) 998-2918 (FLA) - representing people facing accident, accountability and addiction matters - because the problems surrounding a criminal charge do not necessarily end in a criminal court anymore...

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