After reading Nancy Marder’s article on Batson v. Kentucky, I wanted to see how Batson challenges play out in Dallas, Texas. I looked up cases from the last six months from the Dallas Court of Appeals that had Batson issues to see if what she argues about courts that deal with Batson is true (on a very small, anecdotal scale). Some of the reasons she claims Batson is ineffective is that “trial judges are reluctant to find Batson violations, and appellate courts are extremely deferential to trial courts when reviewing Batson challenges.” The most recent case involved a Batson violation, and both trial court decisions were upheld.
Sixtos v. State (Aug. 26, 2014)
A Dallas County jury convicted the defendant-appellant of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after she drove over her boyfriend with her car during a domestic dispute. The defendant argued on appeal that the trial court erred in allowing the State’s Batson challenge to a defense preemptory strike.
During voir dire, the prospective juror in question was asked about his job as an engineer who contracted with the City of Dallas to repair emergency and 911 equipment. The defendant struck him and several other males, which caused the state to challenge the strikes of males and argue that the defense struck males to avoid men on the jury sympathizing with the male victim. Defense counsel argued that he perceived that the juror didn’t want to be there or didn’t like defense counsel because his answers were “curt.”
Viewing the trial court’s decision with deference and applying a clearly erroneous standard, the appellate court decided that the trial court was correct in finding that the defense’s strike of the juror violated Batson. The appellate court overruled the issue because it found support for the trial court’s determination that the strike violated Batson because it did not appear from the record that defense counsel’s reasons for the strike applied to the juror. His answers were not short or disrespectful, so defense counsel’s reasons became illegitimate.
Hooten v. State (June 10, 2014)
The defendant-appellant appealed his conviction for indecent exposure to a child, and one of his issues on appeal was that the trial court erred when it denied his Batson challenge to the prosecution’s preemptory strike. The defense argued that the strike was racially motivated because the prospective juror was an African American female and she knew a Dallas County judge. The prosecution’s argument was that the reason for the strike was that she knew a judge and that reason is race-neutral. The appellate court did not find that the defense proved that the trial court’s ruling was clearly erroneous by making a conclusory statement that the reason was racially motivated, so it overruled the issue.
I was surprised to find a violation in a recent case after reading Marder’s article where she stated, “[A]lmost any reason that is not explicitly about race will suffice.” The defense’s reason in Sixtos was based on counsel’s perceptions of the juror, but the trial and appeals court analyzed the juror’s responses contrary to how defense perceived the situation. I agree with the court’s analysis of that the juror did not seem to be “curt,” but I was not in the courtroom watching the body language and listening to the tone of the juror. The appeals court analyzed more than I thought it would have after reading Marder’s overview of the “ineffectiveness” of judges.
Marder’s thoughts on how appellate judges are extremely deferential to the trial court’s decisions ring true in this small sample. Both cases use the extremely deferential language, which seems nearly impossible to overcome. In Hooten, the court was deferential for good reason: the defense shouldn’t be able to succeed with a Batson challenge using only a conclusory statement when the prosecution gave a race-neutral reason (knowing a judge).