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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Slaps 9th Circuit for ‘Inexplicable’ Decision in Batson Challenge

Posted Mar 21, 2011 9:59 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has reversed the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a per curiam decision that hits the San Francisco appellate court for an “inexplicable” three-paragraph decision finding that a prosecutor wrongfully dismissed two blacks from the jury panel.

The Supreme Court ruled (PDF) in Felkner v. Jackson, an appeal of a criminal conviction stemming from the defendant’s attack on a 72-year-old woman in his apartment building. The defendant, Steven Frank Jackson, had claimed the prosecutor improperly used his peremptory challenges to strike two black jurors from the panel, violating the bar on race-based dismissals established in Batson v. Kentucky.

One of the dismissed black jurors had said he believed California police officers had frequently stopped his car because of his race and young age. The other was a social worker who had interned at the county jail. The prosecutor said he feared the first juror may still harbor police animosity and he struck the second because he does not “like to keep social workers.” A third black member of the panel was seated as a juror.

A California appeals court and a federal district court sided with the state. The 9th Circuit reversed in a three-paragraph unpublished memorandum opinion that found the prosecutor’s explanation was not sufficient, given that “the record reflected different treatment of comparably situated jurors.”

The U.S. Supreme Court found that explanation was lacking. The 9th Circuit failed to discuss specific facts or to even mention the reasoning of the courts that rejected Jackson’s claim, the Supreme Court said.

The decision “is as inexplicable as it is unexplained,” the Supreme Court said. “It is reversed.”

The decision by the California appeals court was "plainly not unreasonable," the Supreme Court said. “There was simply no basis for the 9th Circuit to reach the opposite conclusion, particularly in such a dismissive manner.”

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