State v. Campbell, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Jan. 21, 2020)

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.