Smith v. Jackson
In Smith v. Jackson, 770 So. 2d 1068 (Ala. 2000) a husband and wife sued a building-contractor corporation and its owner, alleging breach of express warranty and breach of contract in regard to the construction of their home. The husband and wife, the Jacksons, used their peremptory strikes to remove all white veniremembers.
The circuit court eventually accepted a jury verdict in favor of the husband on the breach-of-contract and breach-of-the-express-warranty claims and entered a judgment on that verdict. The contractor appealed; this Court reversed and remanded.
This Court wrote in Smith:
"The jury venire was composed of 8 white persons and 29 black persons. The Jacksons exercised peremptory challenges against all eight white veniremembers. The defendants made a Batson objection, and the trial court required the Jacksons to provide race-neutral reasons for each of the eight contested challenges. The trial court found that the Jacksons' stated reasons were race- neutral, were not pretextual, and were based on information disclosed during voir dire examination. On appeal, the defendants argue that, as to three of the white veniremembers, the Jacksons' stated reasons were pretextual and were not based on information disclosed during voir dire. With respect to one of the veniremembers, we agree.
"The Jacksons' attorney offered the following reason for striking veniremember M.H.:
"'She worked for the Welch's company selling baby stuff all up and down through this area for years. I don't know how much stuff she sold to every person in the county including the Smiths. You have got to--you know yourself when you sell baby stuff to these people who are now defendants, I thought that whether or not she would admit it you keep seeing everybody as little Jimmy Smith or little Mac Smith or something like that.'
"There was no information disclosed during voir dire concerning M.H.'s alleged past employment with Welch's or her having sold 'baby stuff' to Mac Smith or his family. The Jacksons' attorney did, however, ask the veniremembers during voir dire whether any of them knew either of the Jacksons. M.H. did not indicate that she did."....
"... The explanation given by the Jacksons' attorney as to why he struck M.H. was not based on information disclosed during voir dire. The explanation given by the Jacksons' attorney is somewhat cryptic, but it appears that his reason for asserting a peremptory challenge against M.H. was either that M.H. knew Mac Smith because she had in fact sold 'baby stuff' to him or to his family, or that M.H.'s former occupational experiences would somehow influence her to look upon Smith more favorably than upon the Jacksons.
"If M.H. had in fact sold 'baby stuff' to Mac Smith or his family, and that fact had been disclosed during voir dire, we might accept the trial court's finding that the reason offered by the Jacksons' attorney was legitimate and race-neutral. See Looney [v. Davis,] 721 So. 2d [152,] at 165 [(Ala. 1998)], (noting that '"strikes based on the veniremember's relationship to or acquaintance with the defendant or with the defendant's witnesses have generally been upheld"') (quoting Rowe v. State, 625 So. 2d 1210, 1211 (Ala.Crim.App. 1993)). The Jacksons' attorney, however, could easily have ascertained during voir dire whether that was a fact, but failed to do so. Therefore, we must conclude that, to the extent the explanation given by the Jacksons' attorney can be understood as implying that M.H. knew Mac Smith, it was based on 'intuitive judgment or suspicion' and did not constitute a legitimate, race-neutral reason for the peremptory strike. Looney, 721 So. 2d at 165.
"To the extent the explanation given by the Jacksons' attorney can be understood as implying that M.H. would be influenced by her former occupation to look more favorably upon Mac Smith than upon the Jacksons, it also fails to constitute 'a clear, specific, and legitimate reason for the challenge which relates to the particular case ... and which is nondiscriminatory.' [Ex parte] Branch, 526 So. 2d  at 623 [(Ala. 1987)] (emphasis omitted). Although a veniremember's past or present occupation can be a legitimate, race-neutral reason for a peremptory strike, see Burlington Northern R.R. v. Whitt, 575 So. 2d 1011, 1018 (Ala. 1990), cert. denied, 499 U.S. 948, 113 L. Ed. 2d 468, 111 S. Ct. 1415 (1991), 'strikes allegedly based upon a veniremember's occupation have not been upheld where the employment does not appear in any way to "relate to the particular case to be tried."' Looney, 721 So. 2d at 166 (quoting Branch, 526 So. 2d at 623). The Jacksons' attorney offered no reason why M.H.'s former occupation of selling 'baby stuff' was relevant to this case involving home construction, and we do not perceive any such reason. Therefore, we hold that, under the facts of this case, the trial court abused its discretion in finding that the reasons given by the Jacksons' counsel for striking M.H. were not pretextual.
"This Court has stated that 'the removal of even one juror for a racially discriminatory reason is a violation of the equal protection rights of both the excluded juror and the party challenging the peremptory strike.' Looney, 721 So. 2d at 163 (citing Ex parte Jackson, 640 So. 2d 1050 (Ala. 1993), and Ex parte Bird, 594 So. 2d 676 (Ala. 1991)). Because the trial court erred in accepting as race-neutral the Jacksons' explanation for striking veniremember M.H., we reverse the trial court's judgment and remand this case for a new trial." (Smith v. Jackson, 770 So.2d 1068, 7-14.)