State v. Alexander, 274 N.C. App. 31 (Oct. 20, 2020)

(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.