Strikes Were Racist Even Though Some Black Jurors Seated

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By Alisa Johnson

A capital murder conviction must be set aside because blacks were eliminated by prosecutors from serving on the jury because of race even though other blacks sat on the panel, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled ( Chamberlin v. Fisher , 2017 BL 139792, 5th Cir., No. 15-70012, 4/27/17 ).

The Mississippi court’s denial of relief under Batson v. Kentucky, which prohibits racial discrimination in jury selection , was based on an un reasonable determination of the facts in light of the comparative juror analysis set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, the court said on April 27 in holding the petitioner was entitled to habeas corpus relief.

Batson provided a means to challenge peremptory juror strikes, which generally require no explanation, to expose exclusions that are unconstitutionally based on race.

A comparative juror analysis is a side-by-side comparison of panelists who were the subject of challenged strikes and those allowed to serve to evaluate the merits of the claim that the strikes were based on race.

At the murder trial of Lisa Jo Chamberlin, the prosecution used the vast majority of its early peremptory strikes against blacks. It accepted two black jurors only after defense counsel’s repeated objections, and when it was running out if its allotted number of strikes.

The petitioner is entitled to relief because the prosecution allowed the seating of a white juror who was “identical in all respects” to two black jurors who were struck, the court held in a decision by Judge Gregg Costa.

A white juror who was not struck gave the same answers during jury selection that the prosecutor cited as race-neutral reasons for striking two black jurors, the court said.

All expressed reservations about voting for the death penalty.

The jury that was seated was “a near-perfect representation of the racial makeup of the pool from which it was chosen,” dissenting Judge Edith Brown Clement said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Johnson in Washington at ajohnson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: C. Reilly Larson at rlarson@bna.com

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