Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

Smith's Criminal Case Compendium

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This compendium includes significant criminal cases by the U.S. Supreme Court & N.C. appellate courts, Nov. 2008 – Present. Selected 4th Circuit cases also are included.

Jessica Smith prepared case summaries Nov. 2008-June 4, 2019; later summaries are prepared by other School staff.

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E.g., 10/21/2021
E.g., 10/21/2021

In this murder case resulting in a death sentence, the Court held that the trial court committed clear error in concluding that the State’s peremptory strike of a black prospective juror was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.  The defendant Flowers, who is black, allegedly murdered four people at a furniture store in Winona, Mississippi, three of whom were white.  Flowers was tried six separate times for the murders; the same lead prosecutor conducted each of the trials.  A conviction in the first trial was reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct, with the court not reaching a Batson challenge raised in that proceeding.  A conviction in the second trial was reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct.  A conviction in the third trial was reversed by the Mississippi Supreme Court on grounds that the State violated Batson.  The fourth and fifth trials ended in hung jury mistrials.  A Batson challenge arising in the sixth trial is the basis of the instant case.

Under principles of equal protection, Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), prohibits the use of peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner.  A Batson challenge is a three-step process. First, the party asserting the challenge must make a prima facie case of discrimination in the use of a peremptory strike.  If a prima facie case is established, the burden shifts to the party subject to the challenge to provide a race-neutral reason for the strike.  In the third step, the trial judge assesses whether purposeful discrimination has been proved, examining as part of this assessment whether the proffered race-neutral reasons for the strike in fact are pretext for discrimination.

In assessing the Batson issue in the instant case, the Court said that four categories of evidence loomed large:

(1) the history from Flowers’ six trials, (2) the prosecutor’s striking of five of six black prospective jurors at the sixth trial, (3) the prosecutor’s dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors at the sixth trial, and (4) the prosecutor’s proffered reasons for striking one black juror (Carolyn Wright) while allowing other similarly situated white jurors to serve on the jury at the sixth trial.

The Court addressed each of these categories in turn.  With regard to the history from Flowers’ trials, the court first noted that under Batson a challenger need not demonstrate a history of discriminatory strikes in past cases – purposeful discrimination may be proved solely on evidence concerning the exercise of peremptory challenges at the particular trial at issue.  However, Batson does not preclude use of such historical evidence, and the “history of the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes in Flowers’ first four trials strongly supports the conclusion that his use of peremptory strikes in Flowers’ sixth trial was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.  Over the course of the first four trials, the State “used its available peremptory strikes to attempt to strike every single black prospective juror that it could have struck.”  The Court further noted that a Batson challenge in the second trial was sustained by the trial court and that the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the conviction obtained in the third trial because of a Batson violation.

Turning to the events of the sixth trial, the Court noted that the State struck five of six black prospective jurors and that this, in light of the history of the case, suggested that the State was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.  The Court also noted the State’s “dramatically disparate questioning of black and white prospective jurors.”  The five black prospective jurors who were struck were asked a total of 145 questions by the State.  In contrast, the State asked the 11 seated white jurors a total of 12 questions.  With regard to this disparate questioning, the Court found that the record refuted the State’s argument that differences in questioning was explained by differences in the jurors’ characteristics.  Finally, with regard to a particular black prospective juror, Carolyn Wright, the Court found that the State’s peremptory strike was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.  The State said that it struck Wright in part because she knew several defense witnesses and worked at a Wal-Mart where Flowers’ father also worked.  The Court noted that Winona is a small town and that several prospective jurors knew many individuals involved in the case.  It further noted that the State did not engage in a meaningful voir dire examination on this purported basis for striking Wright with similarly situated white potential jurors.  The State also misstated the record while attempting to provide a race-neutral explanation of its strike of Wright to the trial court.  The Court explained that “[w]hen a prosecutor misstates the record in explaining a strike, that misstatement can be another clue showing discriminatory intent.”  The court concluded its analysis of the State’s strike of Wright by explaining that its precedents require that the strike be examined “in the context of all the facts and circumstances,” and that in this light “we conclude that the trial court clearly erred in ruling that the State’s peremptory strike of Wright was not motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.”

Justice Thomas, joined in part by Justice Gorsuch, dissented.  In Thomas’s view, “[e]ach of the five challenged strikes was amply justified on race-neutral grounds timely offered by the State at the Batson hearing.”

The Court reversed this capital murder case, finding that the State’s “[t]wo peremptory strikes on the basis of race are two more than the Constitution allows.” The defendant was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in a Georgia court. Jury selection proceeded in two phases: removals for cause and peremptory strikes. The first phase whittled the list of potential jurors down to 42 “qualified” prospective jurors. Five were black. Before the second phase began, one of the black jurors—Powell—informed the court that she had just learned that one of her close friends was related to the defendant; she was removed, leaving four black prospective jurors: Eddie Hood, Evelyn Hardge, Mary Turner, and Marilyn Garrett. The State exercised nine of its ten allotted peremptory strikes, removing all four of the remaining black prospective jurors. The defendant immediately lodged a Batson challenge. The trial court rejected the objection and empaneled the jury. The jury convicted the defendant and sentenced him to death. After the defendant unsuccessfully pursued his Batson claim in the Georgia courts, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Before the Court, both parties agreed that the defendant demonstrated a prima facie case and that the prosecutor had offered race-neutral reasons for the strikes. The Court therefore addressed only Batson’s third step, whether purposeful discrimination was shown. The defendant focused his claim on the strikes of two black prospective jurors, Marilyn Garrett and Eddie Hood. With respect Garrett, the prosecutor had told the trial court that Garrett was “listed” by the prosecution as “questionable” and its strike of her was a last-minute race-neutral decision. However, evidence uncovered after the trial showed this statement to be false; the evidence showed that the State had specifically identified Garret in advance as a juror to strike. In fact, she was on a “definite NO’s” list in the prosecution’s file. The Court rejected attempts by the State “to explain away the contradiction between the ‘definite NO’s’ list and [the prosecutor’s] statements to the trial court as an example of a prosecutor merely ‘misspeak[ing].’” Regarding Hood, the Court noted that “[a]s an initial matter the prosecution’s principal reasons for the strike shifted over time, suggesting that those reasons may be pretextual.” It further found that the State’s asserted justifications for striking Hood “cannot be credited.” In the end, the Court found that “the focus on race in the prosecution’s file plainly demonstrates a concerted effort to keep black prospective jurors off the jury.”

Thaler v. Haynes, 559 U.S. 43 (Feb. 22, 2010)

When an explanation for a peremptory challenge is based on a prospective juror’s demeanor, the trial judge should consider, among other things, any observations the judge made of the prospective juror’s demeanor during the voir dire. However, no previous decisions of the Court have held that a demeanor-based explanation must be rejected if the judge did not observe or cannot recall the prospective juror’s demeanor.

Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148 (Mar. 31, 2009)

During a state murder trial, the defendant was denied the opportunity to exercise a peremptory challenge against a female juror because the trial judge erroneously, but in good faith, believed that the defendant’s use of a peremptory challenge violated Batson. The Due Process Clause does not require an automatic reversal of a conviction when a state trial court committed a good-faith error in denying the defendant’s peremptory challenge of a juror and all jurors seated in the trial were qualified and unbiased.

The defendant was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon and multiple drug crimes including drug trafficking. During jury selection, the State peremptorily challenged two potential jurors who were black before accepting a white juror. The defendant made a Batson motion, arguing that there was no basis aside from race for excusing the first two jurors. The trial court concluded that the defendant had not made a prima facie showing of racial discrimination, noting in particular that the State had “excused two, but kept three African Americans.” The defendant was convicted and appealed. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, holding that the defendant failed to make a prima facie case that the State’s challenges were racially motivated. State v. Bennett, 262 N.C. App. 89 (2018).

On discretionary review, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals. As a preliminary matter, the Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that the record contained sufficient information about the relevant jurors’ race to permit a substantive review of the defendant’s Batson claim. There was no dispute among counsel for the parties or the trial judge concerning the racial identity of the relevant jurors, resulting in what amounts to a stipulation to their racial identity. The Court then concluded that the Court of Appeals erred in upholding the trial court’s rejection of the defendant’s Batson claim. After noting that a numerical analysis of strike patterns with respect to race is not necessarily dispositive, the Court said that the pattern here—where the State had challenged two of five African American prospective jurors but no white jurors, and where all of the State’s peremptory challenges were used to excuse black prospective jurors—was sufficient to raise an inference of purposeful discrimination when there was no other immediately obvious justification for the challenges. The Court rejected the State’s argument that the State’s acceptance rate for African American prospective jurors (three out of five) was higher than in many previous cases affirming trial court findings of no purposeful discrimination. Those cases included other distinguishing facts beyond the acceptance rate, such as the State using peremptory challenge on at least one white prospective juror, or a juror expressing reservations about the death penalty. Having found that the trial court erred at step one of the Batson analysis, the Court remanded the matter for a hearing to complete the second and third steps of the required analysis.

Justice Newby dissented, writing that the defendant did not preserve the race of the jurors for the record, and that Court therefore should not have reached the merits of his claim. And even if the issue had been preserved, he would have concluded that the trial court did not clearly err.

The defendant was tried capitally in Cumberland County and convicted of first-degree murder (among other offenses). On appeal, he argued the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenges to three peremptory strikes used by the State against black jurors during jury selection. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed (here). On discretionary review, the North Carolina Supreme Court reversed in a 6-1 divided opinion.

Under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), when a defendant objects that the State has struck a juror for racially discriminatory reasons, the court undertakes a three-step hearing. First, the court determines whether the defendant made a prima facia showing that the exercise of the peremptory strike was discriminatory. The defendant meets that hurdle “by showing that the totality of the relevant facts give rise to an inference of racial discrimination [and] is not intended to be a high hurdle . . .” Slip op. at 8-9. At this stage, the defendant’s burden is one of production, not persuasion. If the defendant meets that burden, the State must then provide a race-neutral justification for the use of the strike. If the State provides facially neutral explanations, then the court proceeds to the third step, allowing the defendant an opportunity to rebut the State’s explanation and show purposeful discrimination by the State in its exercise of the strike.  At this stage, the court must consider all of the evidence and determine whether the prosecution’s use of the strike “was motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.” Id. at 12.

(1) As to the defendant’s first two Batson objections, the trial court ruled against the defendant at the first stage, finding that he did not make a prima facia case. However, the trial court proceeded to the second and third steps of the analysis, asking the State to justify its use of the strikes and then denying the Batson challenge on the merits. The Court of Appeals held that the issue of whether the defendant made a prima facia case was not moot and agreed with the trial court that a prima facia case had not been established. This was error, as that issue was moot. See, e.g. State v. Robinson, 330 N.C. 1, 17 (1991) (so holding). “When the trial court has already ruled that a defendant failed in his ultimate burden of proving purposeful discrimination, there is no reason to consider whether the defendant has met the lesser burden of establishing a prima facia case of discrimination.” Hobbs slip op. at 13 (citations omitted). These circumstances were distinguishable from other cases cited in the Court of Appeals decision where the trial court ruled on the first step but did not conduct a complete Batson analysis.

(2) The trial court and the Court of Appeals failed to properly weigh the defendant’s evidence of purposeful discrimination. As to the first two challenges, the Court of Appeals did not consider purposeful discrimination at all, ruling only that the defendant did not make a prima facia showing. Since that issue was moot, the Court of Appeals should have conducted a full Batson analysis. While the trial court purported to conduct a “full hearing” on the Batson claims for the first two challenged jurors, its analysis of purposeful discrimination also failed to consider all of the evidence. The trial court noted the races of the defendant, the victims, and witnesses, and observed that the State had used three-fourths of its peremptory challenges on black venire members. It also noted that the defendant had exercised nearly half of his peremptory challenges to excuse black venire members. The trial court listed the State’s race-neutral justifications and stated that it “considered” the defendant’s argument that comparative answers between jurors struck and jurors kept by the State rebutted those justifications. It concluded no discrimination had occurred and did not specifically address the defendant’s argument regarding historical evidence of discrimination in jury selection in the county. Multiple errors in this analysis required a new Batson hearing.

One, the defendant’s use of peremptory challenges is irrelevant to determining the State’s intention in striking the juror, and it was improper for the trial court to consider that evidence. Second, the trial court failed to address all of the defendant’s evidence of discriminatory intent, including evidence of a pattern of historical discrimination in voir dire within the county. Without explaining how this evidence was weighed, the trial court’s analysis was incomplete. Finally, the trial court erred by failing to conduct comparative analysis of the answers of the jurors struck and of those passed on by the State. The trial court examined the different questions asked by the State of the jurors but failed to meaningfully compare the jurors’ answers in response. Evidence in the record suggested that white jurors passed by the State gave answers similar to those given by similar black jurors who were excused by the State. This was relevant and should have been addressed. In the court’s words:

Evidence about similar answers between similarly situated white and nonwhite jurors is relevant to whether the prosecutor’s stated reasons for exercising a peremptory strike are mere pretext for racial discrimination.  Potential jurors do not need to be identical in every regard for this to be true. ‘If a prosecutor’s proffered reason for striking a black panelist applies just as well to an otherwise-similar nonblack who is permitted to serve, that is evidence tending to prove purposeful discrimination to be considered at Batson’s third step’. Id. at 21-22 (citations omitted).

These errors required reversal and remand to the trial court for new hearing. The same errors affected the trial court’s denial of the defendant’s third Batson claim. On remand, the trial court was instructed to conduct another Batson hearing as to all three claims, taking into account the totality of the evidence, including comparative analysis of juror answers and the historical evidence regarding racial discrimination. The trial court was further instructed to make findings of fact and conclusions of law, and to certify its order to the North Carolina Supreme Court within 60 days or “within such time as the current state of emergency allows.” Id. at 24.

Justice Newby dissented and would have affirmed the trial court and Court of Appeals. [Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, Emily Coward blogged about this case, here.]

State v. Waring, 364 N.C. 443 (Nov. 5, 2010)

The trial court did not err in denying a capital defendant’s Batson challenge when the defendant failed to established a prima facie case that the prosecutor’s use of a peremptory challenge against Juror Rogers, an African-American female, was motivated by race. Because Ms. Rogers was the first prospective juror peremptorily challenged, there was no pattern of disproportionate use of challenges against African-Americans. Ms. Rogers was the only juror who stated, when first asked, that she was personally opposed to the death penalty. (2) The trial court did not err in denying a capital defendant’s Batson challenge to the State’s peremptory challenge of a second juror. There did not appear to be a systematic effort by the State to prevent African-Americans from serving when the State accepted 50% of African-American prospective jurors. The prosecutor’s race-neutral reasons were that the juror had not formulated views on the death penalty, did not read the newspaper or watch the news, had been charged with a felony, and gave information regarding disposition of that charge that was inconsistent with AOC records. Considering these reasons in the context of the prosecutor’s examination of similarly situated whites who were not peremptorily challenged, the court found they were not pretextual and that race was not a significant factor in the strike. (3) The court rejected the defendant’s argument that a remand was required for further findings of fact under Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472 (2008). Unlike in Snyder, the case at hand did not involve peremptory challenges involving demeanor or other intangible observations that cannot be gleaned from the record. However, the court stated that “[c]onsistent with Snyder, we encourage the trial courts to make findings . . . to elucidate aspects of the jury selection process that are not preserved on the cold record so that review of such subjective factors as nervousness will be possible.”

(1) The defendant, on trial for multiple drug charges, challenged the prosecutor’s peremptory strike of the only Black juror in the venire under Batson v. Kentucky. The trial court overruled the defendant’s objection, finding that although the “100 percent rejection rate of African American jurors” established a prima facie showing of discrimination, the State gave credible race-neutral reasons for striking the prospective juror, and the defendant therefore did not prove purposeful discrimination. The defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenge or, in the alternative, failed to make adequate findings of fact as required by State v. Hobbs, 374 N.C. 345 (2020). The Court of Appeals rejected the State’s argument that the defendant had not preserved the issue because the record did not disclose direct evidence of the race of the challenged juror and the jury selection process was not recorded. The Court held that the record sufficed to permit appellate review when the record of the Batson hearing included express statements, undisputed by the State, that the defendant was African American and that the lone African American in the jury pool was excluded. On the merits of the Batson challenge, the Court concluded that the trial court failed to make sufficient findings of fact on its comparative analysis of the answers regarding prior criminal history given by the stricken Black juror (who had a previous child abuse charge dismissed) and a White juror passed by the State (who had a prior drug charge dismissed). The trial court also failed to make findings of fact on the defendant’s argument that the State’s purported concern about the defendant’s “tone of voice” suggested racial bias. The Court remanded the matter to the trial court for specific findings, including, but not limited to the details of the court’s comparative juror analysis and on the defendant’s assertion that the prosecutor’s statements regarding the defendant’s answers to questions and tone of voice evinced racial bias. (2) The trial court erred by assessing costs in each of the four judgments against the defendant. Under State v. Rieger, ___ N.C. App. ___, 833 S.E.2d 699 (2019), the trial court should assess costs only once for cases adjudicated together in the same hearing or trial regarding multiple charges arising from the same underlying event or transaction.

In a first-degree felony murder case, the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s motion to strike the initial jury panel and the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for a proper Batson hearing consistent with State v. Hobbs, 374 N.C. 345 (2020).  Before jury selection, the clerk provided the State and the defendant with a list of the first 12 prospective jurors to be called from the master jury list – 11 had surnames beginning with the letter “B” and the twelfth had a surname beginning with the letter “C.”  After defense counsel’s oral motion on the first day of voir dire to strike the first 12 prospective jurors based on concerns about whether they had been randomly selected in accordance with relevant statutes was denied, defense counsel made a motion in writing on the second day of voir dire to strike the jury panel for lack of randomness.  The trial court denied that written motion.  On the third day of voir dire, the trial court summarily denied the defendant’s Batson challenge to the State’s exercise of a peremptory strike against an African-American prospective juror.  With respect to the denial of the written motion to strike the jury panel, the Court of Appeals determined that even if the mandatory statutory procedure for calling jurors had been violated, the defendant did not show that any such violation was prejudicial because he did not strike any of the first 12 jurors for cause or with a peremptory challenge.  With respect to the Batson challenge, the court reviewed Hobbs, other precedent, and the proceedings in the trial court on its way to determining that the trial court erred by summarily denying the challenge without making specific findings of fact and conclusions of law.  The court remanded the case with instructions to the trial court to conduct a proper Batson hearing.

This case involves a first-degree murder conviction previously upheld by the Court of Appeals, ___ N.C. App. ___, 838 S.E.2d 660 (2020), back before the court for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions in State v. Hobbs, ___ N.C. ___, 841 S.E.2d 492(2020), and State v. Bennett, ___ N.C. ___, 843 S.E.2d 222 (2020). 

At his murder trial, the defendant raised a Batson challenge in response to the State’s use of three of its four peremptory challenges to strike African American prospective jurors. The trial judge said that he did not find that the defendant established a prima facie case of discrimination, but he nonetheless ordered the State to give reasons for its challenges, which the State did. After hearing the State’s explanations, the trial court reiterated its finding that the defendant had not made a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination and denied his Batson challenge. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder and appealed.

The Court of Appeals first rejected the State’s motion to dismiss the appeal in light of the defendant’s failure to include in the appellate record a transcript of jury selection proceedings. At trial, the defendant’s lawyer made a motion for recordation of all proceedings, but specifically noted that she was not requesting recordation of jury selection. The appellate court concluded that the record was minimally sufficient to permit appellate review here, but emphasized that it will generally be extremely difficult for a defendant to prevail on a Batson argument without a transcript of jury selection. 

The Court of Appeals next determined that the scope of its review was limited to step one of the Batson analysis—that is, the trial judge’s finding that the defendant had failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. The court distinguished this case from State v. Williams, 343 N.C. 345 (1996) (step one becomes moot when the State volunteers the reasons for its peremptory challenges before the trial court rules on whether the defendant has made a prima facie showing), and State v. Hobbs, ___ N.C. App. at ___, 841 S.E.2d at 499–501 (step one becomes moot when the trial judge rules that the defendant has not established a prima facie case but nonetheless orders the State to provide nondiscriminatory reasons for its peremptory challenges and then enters findings on those reasons). Unlike Williams, the State did not volunteer reasons before the trial court ruled on step one; the State was ordered to give reasons after the court ruled. And unlike Hobbs, the trial judge never conducted a full hearing or made findings on the State’s proffered reasons. The step one inquiry therefore was not rendered moot, and Court of Appeals majority thus considered itself precluded from consideration of the State’s proffered nondiscriminatory reasons. The court concluded that the trial court’s order addressing only step one of the inquiry was not facially deficient when that was the only step of the inquiry the trial court technically reached.

On the merits, the court concluded that based on the limited available record, the defendant had not established that the trial court erred in finding that the defendant failed to make a prima facie showing. The transcript showed only the race of the defendant and that the State used three of its four peremptory challenges to remove prospective African American jurors. It did not provide other information about the so-called Quick factors (derived from State v. Quick, 341 N.C. 141 (1995)), such as the race of the victim, the questions and statements of the prosecutor during jury selection, or the final racial composition of the jury. The court noted its concern that the State used seventy-five percent of its peremptory challenges on African American prospective jurors, but said that alone was not sufficient to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. 

A judge dissenting in part would have concluded that the rate at which the State used its peremptory challenges on African American jurors obligated the trial court to conduct a more thorough analysis of the defendant’s objection. He therefore would have remanded the case for specific findings of fact in order to permit a meaningful appellate review.

In this first-degree murder case, defense counsel objected to the State’s use of peremptory challenges to strike three African American prospective jurors. The trial court denied defense counsel’s Batson challenge, finding that the defendant had not established a prima facie case that the State acted in a racially discriminatory manner. The Court of Appeals found no error, first denying the State’s motion to dismiss the appeal for failing to include a verbatim transcript of jury selection in the appellate record. A transcript is not required—although the court noted that it is “extremely difficult” to prevail on a Batson argument without one. Here, the Court of Appeals concluded that the narrative summary of jury selection proceedings in the appellate record was “minimally sufficient” to enable the court to review whether the defendant established a prima facie Batson claim by presenting factors relevant to the claim (so-called Quick factors, listed by the Supreme Court in State v. Quick, 341 N.C. 141 (1995), including the defendant’s race, the victim’s race, the race of key witnesses, and information about the State’s use of peremptory challenges to strike jurors based on race). On the merits, however, the court concluded over a dissent that without more information about the Quick factors (the narrative summary did not state the victim’s race, the race of key witnesses, or the final racial composition of the jury), it lacked sufficient information to conclude that the trial court erred. The court “urge[d] all criminal defense counsel that the better practice is to request a verbatim transcription of jury selection if they believe a Batson challenge might be forthcoming.” The court declined to consider the State’s proffered nondiscriminatory reasons for striking three prospective African American jurors, because those reasons were provided only after the judge had already ruled that the defendant had failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. (The court distinguished situations where the State volunteers nondiscriminatory reasons before the judge rules on the question of a prima facie case, or where the court requires the State to give reasons before actually ruling on the first question.)

A judge concurring in part and dissenting in part agreed with the majority that the narrative summary in the record sufficed to deny the State’s motion to dismiss the appeal, but would have concluded that the State’s use of three out of four peremptory challenges on African American jurors was a sufficient basis on which to remand the case for the trial court to conduct a Batson hearing and make specific factual findings on whether the defendant made a prima facie case.

The trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s Batson challenges in this capital case. The two victims and the eyewitness were Palestinian and the defendant was black. The State exercised a peremptory strike against Juror 2, a black male. When questioned about the death penalty, Juror 2 stated that he would not agree to the death penalty under any circumstances, elaborating that he was a pastor and that agreeing with the death penalty would make him a hypocrite; he added that he might hypothetically agree to the death penalty in one specified gruesome scenario. Reservations concerning ability to impose the death penalty constitute a racially neutral basis for exercising a peremptory challenge. The State exercised a peremptory strike against Juror 10, a black female. After the defendant raised a Batson challenge, the State provided reasons for the strike: Juror 10’s thoughts about the death penalty; her failure to disclose her criminal charges; reservations about whether law enforcement treated her brother fairly; and her lack of eye contact when asked whether her brother’s prosecution would affect her ability to be fair and impartial. These are racially neutral reasons for striking a juror. The State exercised a peremptory strike against Juror 11, a black male; it did not strike Juror 12, a white male. Jurors 11 and 12 were charged with writing worthless checks and driving while license revoked in the past and both knew a potential witness in the case. However, Juror 12 responded directly to questions about his criminal charges while Juror 11 minimized his criminal history; Juror 11 avoided questions regarding his family members’ criminal charges; Juror 12 had a business relationship with the witness whereas Juror 11 spoke with him on multiple occasions and his grandniece worked for the witness. The trial court did not commit clear error in rejecting the defendant’s Batson challenges

State v. Hurd, 246 N.C. App. 281 (Mar. 15, 2016)

In this capital murder case involving an African American defendant and victims, the trial court did not err by sustaining the State’s reverse Batson challenge. The defendant exercised 11 peremptory challenges, 10 against white and Hispanic jurors. The only black juror that the defendant challenged was a probation officer. The defendant’s acceptance rate of black jurors was 83%; his acceptance rate for white and Hispanic jurors was 23%. When the State raised a Batson challenge, defense counsel explained that he struck the juror in question, Juror 10, a white male, because he indicated that he favored capital punishment as a matter of disposition. Yet, the court noted, that juror also stated that being in the jury box made him “stop and think” about the death penalty, that he did not have strong feelings for or against the death penalty, and he considered the need for facts to support a sentence. Also, the defendant accepted Juror 8, a black female, whose views were “strikingly similar” to those held by Juror 10. Additionally, the defendant had unsuccessfully filed a pretrial motion to prevent the State from exercising peremptory strikes against any prospective black jurors. This motion was not made in response to any discriminatory action of record and was made in a case that is not inherently susceptible to racial discrimination. In light of the record, the court concluded that the trial court did not err by sustaining the State’s Batson objection.

The trial court did not err by dismissing the defendant’s Batson objection. The prosecutor’s explanation for its peremptory challenge to the black juror was that she was unemployed and that the prosecutor recognized the juror’s name, possibly from a prior domestic violence case. The court noted that the State accepted a white juror who was unemployed. However, a review of the record revealed that the trial court conducted a full Batson inquiry and its conclusion that there was no purposeful discrimination was not erroneous.

The trial court did not err by failing to conduct a Batson hearing where the defendant failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination. At the time the defendant objected, the State's acceptance rate, excluding jurors dismissed for cause, was 25% for African Americans, and 80% for whites. This was the only factor asserted by the defendant. The court noted that the defendant and both murder victims were African American and that the State questioned all the prospective jurors in the same manner, there were no racially motivated comments made or questions asked during jury selection, and the responses of the prospective jurors provided reasonable justification for exclusion.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State used six of its peremptory challenges to excuse prospective African-American jurors in violation of Batson. At a Batson hearing, the State offered race-neutral explanations as to why it excused each juror, including unresponsiveness, deceit, failure to make eye contact, alleged acquaintance with the defendant’s former girlfriend, an extensive history of purchasing pawn tickets, and prior employment at the store where the crime occurred. After weighing these race-neutral explanations, the trial court found that the defendant had not demonstrated purposeful discrimination. The court concluded that “[a]fter careful review, we cannot find error that would justify overturning the trial court’s ruling.”

The trial court did not err by rejecting the defendant’s Batson challenge as to two black jurors. The prosecutor's explanation with respect to both jurors included the fact that both had a close family member who was incarcerated and had not been "treated fairly." The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the State accepted a white male juror whose father had been incarcerated, noting that the white juror indicated that he was not close to his father and that his father had been treated fairly. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the State's peremptory challenges left the defendant, who was black, with an all-white jury, concluding that Batson requires purposeful discrimination; it is not enough that the effect of the challenge was to eliminate all or some African-American jurors.

The trial court did not err by overruling the defendant’s Batson objection to the State’s peremptory challenge of an African-American juror. The defendant, who is African-American, was tried for murder. In response to the defendant’s Batson objection, the prosecutor explained to the trial court that the juror was challenged because he was heavily tattooed and dressed in baggy, low hanging jeans decorated with a blood-red colored splatter. The prosecutor expressed concern over what the juror chose to wear to court and “his choice of applying . . . that much ink.” The court found the State’s reason for striking the juror to be race-neutral. It also held that the trial court did not err by finding that the defendant failed to prove purposeful discrimination. The court determined that the defendant’s statistical evidence was not helpful because the jury pool contained only one or two African-Americans. Although defense counsel had suggested to the trial court that there were “racial overtones” in the defendant’s prior trials, no evidence of this was presented. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the State’s explanation for excluding the juror was pretextual. Finally, the court noted that both the victim and the defendant were African-American, the State asked no racially motivated questions, the State’s method of questioning the juror did not differ from its method of questioning other jurors, the State used only two peremptory challenges and contemporaneously challenged both a black and white prospective juror, the defendant left unresolved the question whether one of the jurors accepted by the State was African-American, and the defendant failed to show that any other prospective jurors wore clothing or had tattooing similar to that displayed by the juror in question.

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