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United States v. Jones

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

September 15, 2017

MICHAEL JONES, et al., Defendants.


          Hon. Michael F. Urbanski Chief United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the court on defendants' Batson challenge, ECF No. 768, in which defendants argue that the government used its peremptory challenges at trial in a discriminatory matter in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Specifically, defendants claim that the government used a purposely discriminatory peremptory challenge against N.F., a black male, because of his race.


         In Batson, the Supreme Court held that the use of peremptory challenges to strike jurors on the basis of their race violates the Fourteenuh Amendment. Id. at 89; see United States v. Martinez-Salazar, 528 U.S. 304, 315 (2000) (The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits any party from "exercis[ing] a peremptory challenge to remove a potential juror solely on the basis of me juror's gender, ethnic origin, or race."). The Batson limitations "are imposed on federal prosecutors by the fifth amendment." United States v. Lane, 866 F.2d 103, 104 n.l (4th Cir. 1989).

         Batson and its progeny have developed a three-step framework for evaluating claims of impermissible discrimination in the jury selection process:

(1) the defendant must make out a prima facie case that the peremptory challenge was based on purposeful discrimination, (2) the burden shifts to the government to produce a race neutral explanation for the peremptory challenge that is particular to the parties' case at hand, and (3) the trial court then has the duty of deciding whether the defendant has carried his burden and proved purposeful discrimination.

United States v. Barnette, 211 F.3d 803, 812 (Barnette I) (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767-68 (1995)).

         A defendant establishes a prima facie violation of a racial discrimination in the use of peremptory challenges when he shows:

(1) "he is a member of a cognizable racial group"; (2) "that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove from the venire members of the defendant's race"; and (3) "that these facts and any other relevant circumstances raise an inference that the prosecutor used that practice to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race."

Matthews v. Evatt, 105 F.3d 907, 917 n.7 (quoting Batson, 476 U.S. at 96), abrogated on other grounds by Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005). If the prosecution has offered race-neutral reasons for the peremptory challenge and the court has ruled on the ultimate question of intentional discrimination, "the preliminary issue of whether the defendant has made a prima facie showing is moot." Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 359 (1991).

         The burden then shifts to the prosecution to provide race-neutral reasons for its peremptory challenge. The prosecution's "explanation need not be 'persuasive, or even plausible, ' as long as it is neutral."' United States v. Grimmond, 187 F.3d 823, 834 (4th Cir. 1998) (quoting Matthews. 105 F.3d at 917); see also Johnson v. California, 545 U.S. 162, (2005) (finding that the analysis moves to the third step "even if the State produces only a frivolous or utterly nonsensical justification for its strike").

         The Fourth Circuit has articulated myriad race-neutral reasons that satisfy Batson's second prong. See, e.g.. United States v. Dinkins, 691 F.3d 358, 380 (4th Cir. 2012) (juror's husband had been charged with assault, had two friends who had been murdered, had family who used drugs during her "whole childhood, " and had four children between ages five and ten); United States v. Barnette, 644 F.3d 192, 215 (Barnette II) (4th Cir. 2011) (finding that "hesitation] when asked whether she could put the government on an equal playing field with the defendant" was race neutral); United States v. Farrior, 535 F.3d 210, 221 (4th Cir. 2008) (juror was bail bondsman and might be sympathetic to defendants); United States v. Singh, 518 F.3d 236, 255 (4th Cir. 2008) (juror was "too 'anxious to serve on the panel'"); United States v. McMillon, 14 F.3d 948, 951 (4th Cir. 1994) (juror was the same age as defendant and had children like defendants).

         Of particular import, in Felkner v. Jackson, the prosecution struck a black juror who "stated that from the ages of 16 to 30 years old, he was frequently stopped by the California police officers because-in his view-of his race and age." 562 U.S. 594, 595 (2011) (per curiam). The California trial court denied a Bats on challenge, which the California Court of Appeals affirmed after "carefully review[ing] the record." Id. at 598. The Supreme Court determined that the California Court of Appeals' decision "was plainly not unreasonable." Id. (emphasis added) (reversing Ninth Circuit's grant of Batson challenge).

         Similarly instructive, in United States v. Campbell, the prosecution exercised a peremptory challenge on the sole black venire member "because she was among a group of potential jurors whom the government intended to strike because they were victims of crime and might have, therefore, been dissatisfied with the police." 980 F.2d 245, 249 (4th Cir. 1992). The defendant presented evidence that the venire member "was a well-known and vocal critic of the Roanoke City Police Department and that the government attorneys were aware of this." Id. The Fourth Circuit rejected this argument, finding that the prosecution's rationale "qualifies as . . . facially neutral." Id.; accord United States v. Jett, 18 F.App'x 224, 234 (4th Cir. 2001) ...

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