Landmark California Cases on Preemptive Strike Jury Selection on the Basis of Bias
"Under People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, "a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors on the basis of group bias--that is, bias against 'members of an identifiable group distinguished on racial, religious, ethnic, or similar grounds'--violates the right of a criminal defendant to trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under article I, section 16 of the state Constitution. " "Such a practice also violates the defendant's right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. "' " (People v. Taylor (2010) 48 Cal.4th 574, 611.)
A juror may be challenged for cause for, among other things, exhibiting actual bias, which "may consist of an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the accused . . . or . . . a preconceived opinion concerning the defendant . . . which would prevent a fair consideration by the juror of the evidence given or facts proven in the case." (People v. Riggins (1910) 159 Cal. 113, 117.)
"A trial court should sustain a challenge for cause when a juror's views would 'prevent or substantially impair' the performance of the juror's duties in accordance with the court's instructions and the juror's oath. On appeal, we will uphold a trial court's ruling on a challenge for cause by either party 'if it is fairly supported by the record, accepting as binding the trial court's determination as to the prospective juror's true state of mind when the prospective juror has made statements that are conflicting or ambiguous.' " (People v. McDermott (2002) 28 Cal.4th 946, 981-982.)
The federal constitutional right was established by Batson, and the California counterpart was recognized by Wheeler. (People v. Bell (2007) 40 Cal.4th 582, 596.)
When a Batson/Wheeler motion is made, the trial court conducts a three-part inquiry.
First, the defendant must make a prima facie case by showing that the totality of the circumstances gives rise to a reasonable inference of discriminatory purpose.
Second, if the defendant makes out a prima facie case of discriminatory purpose, the burden shifts to the prosecution to adequately explain its peremptory challenges by offering bias-neutral justifications for the strikes.
Third, if such an explanation has been given, the trial court must decide whether the defendant has proven purposeful discrimination. (People v. Bell, supra, 40 Cal.4th at p. 596.)
In the first step, the defendant "'must raise the issue in a timely fashion, make as complete a record as feasible, and establish that the persons excluded are members of a cognizable class.' 'The defendant satisfies the requirements of Batson's first step by producing evidence sufficient to permit the trial judge to draw an inference that discrimination has occurred.' 'An "inference" is generally understood to be a "conclusion reached by considering other facts and deducing a logical consequence from them."' " (People v. Gray (2005) 37 Cal.4th 168, 186.)
"Certain types of evidence may be especially relevant: 'The defendant may show that the prosecutor has struck most or all of the members of the identified group from the venire, or has used a disproportionate number of his peremptories against the group. The defendant may also demonstrate that the jurors in question share only this one characteristic--their membership in the group--and that in all other respects they are as heterogeneous as the community as a whole. Next, the showing may be supplemented when appropriate by such circumstances as the failure of the prosecutor to engage these same jurors in more than desultory voir dire, or indeed to ask them any questions at all. Lastly, ... the defendant need not be a member of the excluded group in order to complain of a violation of the representative cross-section rule; yet if he is, and especially if in addition his alleged victim is a member of the group to which the majority of the remaining jurors belong, these facts may also be called to the court's attention.' " (People v. Bonilla (2007) 41 Cal.4th 313, 342.)
If the trial court denies the motion without finding a prima facie case of group bias, the reviewing court considers "the entire record of voir dire. " (People v. Howard (1992) 1 Cal.4th 1132, 1155.)
Because Batson/Wheeler motions call upon trial judges' personal observations, we review their rulings with deference on appeal. We examine the record to determine whether substantial evidence supports the trial court's findings on the question of purposeful racial discrimination. (People v. Bonilla, supra, 41 Cal.4th at pp. 341-342.)
"If the record 'suggests grounds upon which the prosecutor might reasonably have challenged' the jurors in question, we affirm." (People v. Howard, supra, at p. 1155.) "It is presumed that the prosecutor uses peremptory challenges in a constitutional manner, and we give deference to the court's ability to distinguish 'bona fide reasons from sham excuses.' " (People v. Avila (2006) 38 Cal.4th 491, 541.)
Group bias is bias against members of an identifiable group distinguished on racial, religious, ethnic, or similar grounds.
When a prosecutor uses peremptory challenges to strike prospective jurors because of group bias, she violates a criminal defendant's right to trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under both the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 16 of the California Constitution. (People v. Bell (2007) 40 Cal.4th 582, 596 (Bell).)
The federal constitutional right was established by Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 (Batson) and the California counterpart was recognized by People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258 (Wheeler). (Bell, supra, at p. 596.)
The right applies not only to racial and ethnic minorities, but to gender discrimination as well. (People v. Jurado (2006) 38 Cal.4th 72, 104.) The defendant need not be a member of the targeted group. (Bell, supra, at p. 597.)
When a Batson-Wheeler motion is made, the trial court conducts a three-part inquiry. First, the defendant must make out a prima facie case by showing that the totality of the circumstances gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose. Second, if the defendant does so, the burden shifts to the prosecution to adequately explain its peremptory challenges by offering group bias-neutral justifications for the strikes. Third, if such an explanation has been given, the trial court must decide whether the defendant has proven purposeful discrimination. (Bell, supra, 40 Cal.4th at p. 596.)