Recently, an Arizona court issued an opinion in an aggravated assault case following the defendant’s challenge of the jury selection. The defendant raised a challenge alleging that the opposing party excluded certain individuals because of their race. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision in denying the defendant’s challenge.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, parties of an upcoming trial were selecting individuals to serve on the jury. The defendant challenged the jury selection, requesting that the prosecutor explain why they chose to remove the only two Black individuals from serving on the jury. The prosecutor explained that they struck one individual from serving on the jury because that individual’s brother was convicted of a crime, which they worried could impact the individual’s ability to judge fairly. The second person was removed from the jury selection pool because that individual was previously involved in a criminal case. The trial court found that these were reasonable and race-neutral justifications and thus that the challenge raised by the defendant should be denied.
A peremptory challenge allows both parties in a case to choose individuals who they would like to excuse from serving on the jury. In Batson v. Kentucky, the court considered whether a prosecutor was in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when he used his peremptory challenges to remove all of the Black individuals from the jury pool. Batson made it illegal for the state to deny a citizen the ability to serve on a jury on account of their race.
As a result, if a party believes individuals are being excluded from jury selection on account of their race, first, the party must file a Batson challenge. In the second step, the burden then shifts to the other party to provide a race-neutral explanation for why they removed the individual from serving on the jury. Thirdly, if a race-neutral explanation is provided, the trial court must decide whether the party who made the Batson challenge has demonstrated purposeful racial discrimination. The court can consider the prosecutor and the juror’s demeanor, among other factors.
On appeal, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s Batson challenge. In other words, the court did not find that the prosecution excluded certain potential jurors because of their race. The court explained that when applying the third step in a Batson challenge, the trial court does not have to make specific determinations if the person is excluded from the jury both because of their demeanor in addition to another race-neutral reason. However, if there is a demeanor-based justification given and another justification given, but the other justification is clearly being used by the prosecution as an excuse for them to be able to discriminate based on race, the trial court must provide an explanation for why they allowed the prosecution to exclude the person from the jury. Here, the trial court did not give specific reasons for why they allowed the opposing party to exclude specific individuals from the jury. As a result, this meant that the trial court did not determine that the prosecution was attempting to discriminate based on race.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s Batson challenge, acknowledging that the prosecution provided two justifications for excluding the specific individuals from serving as jurors and that neither of those justifications was being used by the prosecutor to discriminate based on race.
Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Crime?
If you are facing serious charges after a recent arrest, contact the Law Office of James E. Novak for assistance from a dedicated criminal defense attorney. Attorney Novak has extensive experience handling a wide range of cases including Arizona assault charges, drug charges, or DUI offenses. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation today, call 480-413-1499.