« A Pound of Flesh: Free Speech in the Context of the Desperate Bargains Made between AALL and the Legal Publishing Industry and Individual Institutional Buyers and Their Vendors | Main | Notes by the "Madison" of the AALL Vendor Colloquium's Proceedings Published »
March 21, 2011
Supreme Court Action Today
The Supreme Court's slap down of the Ninth Circuit's rulings on habeas cases, particularly from California, continues today with the lone Per Curiam opinion released this morning. Felkner v. Jackson (10-797) reaches the court in the context of juror challenges.
Jackson was tried in California for various sexual offenses. Two of three prospective black jurors were struck in peremptory challenges. Jackson claimed the dismissal was on the basis of race. The first dismissal went without challenge. At the second striking, Jackson's counsel objected to both strikes. The prosecutor justified the first strike because the potential juror stated that from the ages of 16 to 30 he was frequently stopped by California police, and he attributed that to his race. The prosecutor did not want to contend with any lingering animosity on the part of the juror. The second juror was struck because she had a master's degree in social work, and had interned in the county jail. The prosecutor stated essentially that he didn't want social workers on his juries. Jackson's counsel focused mostly on the second juror strike in filing his motion, which the trial court denied. At least one other non-black juror who also had trouble with police was allowed. Other potential jurors were questioned about their educational backgrounds while the first juror was not.
The issue was raised on direct appeal with the California Appellate Court. There the court stated that the trial judge was able to distinguish bona fide reasons from sham excuses and denied that point of the appeal. The California Supreme Court affirmed. Jackson next took his case to Federal District Court where it was governed by the Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The standard for relief is when the state court's judgment is based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence. The District Court held that the California Court of Appeals findings were not unreasonable. The Ninth Circuit reversed in a three paragraph opinion. The paragraph of interest was:
“The prosecutor’s proffered race-neutral bases for peremptorily striking the two African-American jurors were not sufficient to counter the evidence of purposeful discrimination in light of the fact that two out of three prospective African-American jurors were stricken, and the record reflected different treatment of comparably situated jurors.”
The Supreme Court called this statement inexplicable and unexplained, and reversed. The Court stated that under AEDPA the state court determinations were given great deference. The juror issue is one that turned on evaluation of credibility. The California courts examined the issue in detail, and that the conclusion was reasonable. Then there was this little dig in the opinion:
There was simply no basis for the Ninth Circuit to reach the opposite conclusion, particularly in such a dismissive manner.