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Ray-Simmons v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland

February 22, 2016


         Argued November 6, 2015.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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          Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Case No. 110308026; Case No. 110308027; Case No. 110293019; Case No. 110293021.

         ARGUED BY Michael R. Braudes, Assistant Public Defender (Paul B. DeWolfe, Public Defender of Maryland of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR PETITIONERS.

         ARGUED BY Robert Taylor, Jr., Assistant Attorney General (Brian E. Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland of Baltimore, MD) on brief FOR RESPONDENT.

         Barbera, C.J., Battaglia, Greene, Adkins, McDonald, Watts, Harrell, Jr., Glenn T. (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ. Opinion by Barbera, C.J. McDonald, J., dissents.


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          [446 Md. 434]Barbera, C.J.

         We apply in this case Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), and its progeny to the State's exercise of peremptory challenges and its subsequent explanations for making those challenges. We hold that, because the State's explanation for one of its peremptory challenges was not neutral as to both race and gender, Petitioners are entitled to relief under Batson. We accordingly reverse the decision of the Court of Special Appeals and grant Petitioners a new trial.


         Petitioners, Mashea Ray-Simmons and Antionette McGouldrick, were tried jointly with a third co-defendant before a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City on charges of first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and related handgun offenses. Trial proceeded over the course of eight days in April 2012. Petitioners were acquitted of first degree murder but were found guilty and sentenced for second degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed Petitioners' convictions in an unreported opinion. We granted Petitioners' petition for writ of certiorari to answer the following question:

Does a prosecutor's response to an allegation of racial and gender discrimination in the exercise of a peremptory challenge that she intended to replace the stricken African American male juror with another African American male satisfy the requirement of Batson v. Kentucky, that the State a) provide a specific explanation for each challenged [446 Md. 435] strike, which b) is racially, and with respect to gender, neutral?


          Batson and its progeny instruct that the exercise of peremptory challenges on the basis of race, gender, or ethnicity violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1] Excusing a juror on any of those bases violates both the

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defendant's right to a fair trial and the potential juror's " right not to be excluded on an impermissible discriminatory basis." Edmonds v. State, 372 Md. 314, 329, 812 A.2d 1034 (2002). Moreover, when the striking party's " choice of jurors is tainted with racial bias, that overt wrong casts doubt over the obligation of the parties, the jury, and indeed the court to adhere to the law throughout the trial, invit[ing] cynicism respecting the jury's neutrality and undermin[ing] public confidence in adjudication." Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 238, 125 S.Ct. 2317, 162 L.Ed.2d 196 (2005) (citations, internal quotation marks, and ellipses omitted).

          The Supreme Court announced in Batson a three-step process to assist the trial court in deciding a claim that a party to the case exercised a peremptory challenge to eliminate a prospective juror based on his or her race, gender, or ethnicity. The Supreme Court has hewed to that process ever since Batson and has clarified how trial courts are to employ the process and appellate courts are to review trial courts' decisions. The Supreme Court has emphasized that, throughout the process of evaluating such claims, " [t]he trial court has a pivotal role." Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 477, 128 S.Ct. 1203, 170 L.Ed.2d 175 (2008).

          [446 Md. 436] At step one, the party raising the Batson challenge must make a prima facie showing--produce some evidence--that the opposing party's peremptory challenge to a prospective juror was exercised on one or more of the constitutionally prohibited bases. See Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767, 115 S.Ct. 1769, 131 L.Ed.2d 834 (1995) (per curiam). " [T]he prima facie showing threshold is not an extremely high one--not an onerous burden to establish." Stanley v. State, 313 Md. 50, 71, 542 A.2d 1267 (1988). A prima facie case is established if the opponent of the peremptory strike(s) can show " that the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose." Johnson v. California, 545 U.S. 162, 168, 125 S.Ct. 2410, 162 L.Ed.2d 129 (2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). Merely " a 'pattern' of strikes against black jurors in the particular venire . . . might give rise to or support or refute the requisite showing." Stanley, 313 Md. at 60-61 (citing Batson, 476 U.S. at 97).

         If the objecting party satisfies that preliminary burden, the court proceeds to step two, at which " the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the strike to come forward with" an explanation for the strike that is neutral as to race, gender, and ethnicity. Purkett, 514 U.S. at 767. A step-two explanation must be neutral, " but it does not have to be persuasive or plausible. Any reason offered will be deemed race-neutral unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the explanation." Edmonds, 372 Md. at 330 (citation omitted). " At this step of the inquiry, the issue is the facial validity of the prosecutor's explanation." Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 360, 111 S.Ct. 1859, 114 L.Ed.2d 395 (1991) (plurality opinion). The proponent of the strike cannot succeed at step two " by merely denying that he had a discriminatory motive or by merely affirming his good faith." Purkett, 514 U.S. at 769. Rather, " [a]lthough there may be any number of bases on which a prosecutor reasonably might believe that it is desirable to strike a juror who is not excusable for cause," the striking party " must give a clear and reasonably specific [446 Md. 437] explanation of his legitimate reasons for exercising the challenge." Miller-El, 545 U.S. at 239 (alterations omitted); Stanley, 313 Md. at 61 (quoting Batson, 476 U.S. at 98 n.20).

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          If a neutral explanation is tendered by the proponent of the strike, the trial court proceeds to step three, at which the court must decide " whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful racial discrimination." Purkett, 514 U.S. at 767. " It is not until the third step that the persuasiveness of the justification becomes relevant--the step in which the trial court determines whether the opponent of the strike has carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination." Johnson, 545 U.S. at 171 (quoting Purkett, 514 U.S. at 768) (emphasis omitted); see also Edmonds, 372 Md. at 330. At this step, " the trial court must evaluate not only whether the [striking party's] demeanor belies a discriminatory intent, but also whether the juror's demeanor can credibly be said to have exhibited the basis for the strike attributed to the juror by the [striking party]." Snyder, 552 U.S. at 477. Because a Batson challenge is largely a factual question, a trial court's decision in this regard is afforded great deference and will only be reversed if it is clearly erroneous. Edmonds, 372 Md. at 331.

         Relevant to this case, the question of whether the challenger has made a prima facie case under step one becomes moot if the striking party offers an explanation for the challenged strike. See id. at 332 (citing Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 359) (holding that " whether petitioner has made a prima facie showing that the State's challenges were racially motivated . . . is moot because the State offered explanations for its peremptory challenges and the court ruled, in part, on the ultimate question of intentional discrimination" ); Davis v. Balt. Gas & Elec. Co., 160 F.3d 1023, 1027 (4th Cir. 1998) (holding that " whether the party disputing the peremptory strikes has established a prima facie case of discrimination is moot, since Defendant [446 Md. 438] voluntarily offered racially neutral reasons for its strikes" ). " The effect of a prima facie case of racial or gender discrimination is to shift the burden of production to the party exercising the strike to offer a race or gender-neutral explanation. Once a [race- and gender-neutral] explanation is offered, the prima facie case dissipates[.]" Gilchrist v. State, 340 Md. 606, 634, 667 A.2d 876 (1995) (Chasanow, J., concurring).

         It is against this backdrop that we determine whether the trial court correctly applied the Batson process. Before doing so, however, we must resolve a preliminary matter that requires our examination of what occurred before and during the process of selecting the jury.


         On March 28, 2012, on what, save for a postponement, evidently was to have been the first day of jury selection, Ms. McGouldrick's counsel requested a " ruling that an objection made by one defendant would be deemed made by the others." The trial court responded, " That's fine. All objections are preserved." During jury selection on April 9, 2012, the State initially exercised peremptory challenges to excuse Juror 4579 and Juror 4692, both of whom are African American men. When twelve jurors were seated, the trial court asked the State if the panel was acceptable. At that point, the State asked to excuse Juror 4583, another African American man who had not answered any questions during voir dire. As counsel continued their attempt to seat a twelfth juror, the State exercised two additional peremptory challenges of African American men, Juror 4773 and Juror 4909.

         Upon the State's exercise of its fifth peremptory challenge to excuse Juror 4909, counsel for Petitioner Ray-Simmons

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asked to approach the bench. The following colloquy occurred between the trial court, Ms. Ray-Simmons's counsel, and the State, with counsel for the remaining defendants also present at the bench:

[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: On behalf of Defendant Ray-Simmons, Your Honor, the State has stricken -- made five [446 Md. 439] peremptory strikes; all five of them black, all five of them male. All five of them are no[t] educated and with all [due] respect, there seems to be very little other cause for striking. I think that it's inappropriate.
THE COURT: All right. [State]?
[THE STATE]: Your Honor, as to 4909, the State struck him because of his age. As to 4773, that man appeared to have a real issue with numbers. He either wasn't here this morning when his number was called or just doesn't -- he just appeared to have some issues with that.
As to 4583, I intended to replace him with another black male. Defense, I believe it was two [2] actually, ended up striking that person.
. . . .
As to 4692 - . . . His brother was convicted of CDS and he was unemployed. As to 4579 he's also young.
THE COURT: Okay. All right.
[THE STATE]: I intend to strike more that would also be young.
THE COURT: That's fine. Noted. I don't think it would be used to establish a prima facie case. Thank you.

(Emphasis added). Jury selection resumed. When again twelve jurors were seated, the trial court asked counsel for Ms. Ray-Simmons if the panel was acceptable to his client, to which he replied " Acceptable." Then, in response to the same question, counsel for Ms. McGouldrick answered, " Acceptable, safe from [sic][3] prior objections, Your Honor." Two ...

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