State v. Headen, 206 N.C. App. 109 (Aug. 3, 2010)

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.