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Haney v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

April 25, 2019

Travis Delonte Haney, Appellant,
United States, Appellee.

          Argued March 6, 2019

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF2-7680-16) (Hon. José M. López, Trial Judge)

          Jennifer Williams, Public Defender Service, with whom Samia Fam and Jaclyn Frankfurt, Public Defender Service, were on the brief, for appellant.

          Christopher R. Howland, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman, Suzanne Grealy Curt, and Lauren Bressack, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Fisher, Easterly, and McLeese, Associate Judges.

          Fisher, Associate Judge.

         Travis Delonte Haney appeals his convictions for various weapon-related offenses, arguing that the trial court erred in ruling that he had not established a prima facie case of discrimination in the government's exercise of peremptory strikes. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). We reverse and remand for a new trial.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Following a jury trial from January 17 through January 23, 2017, appellant Haney was found guilty of Counts II through V: carrying a pistol without a license; possession of an unregistered firearm; unlawful possession of ammunition; and possession of a large capacity ammunition feeding device. Judge José M. López thereafter found appellant guilty of Count I, unlawful possession of a firearm by a person previously convicted of a crime of violence.[1] Appellant was sentenced to serve seventy-two months of incarceration and five years of supervised release, and to pay various assessments to the Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Fund. This appeal presents a claim of discrimination in jury selection based on race and gender as defense counsel objected that the government's peremptory strikes disproportionately excluded black jurors and black male jurors.

         At the beginning of jury selection the venire consisted of fifty-four potential jurors.[2] According to the trial transcript, the list of peremptory strikes, and a stipulation between the parties based on the trial attorneys' notes, twenty-five of the potential fifty-four jurors (or 46%) were black.[3] During this phase, the trial court asked potential jurors a list of questions, including an inquiry about any biases or strong feelings in favor of or against police. Responses tended to be racially divided - black jurors more frequently expressed distrust of the police while white jurors more frequently tended to believe that police testimony was trustworthy. After individual questioning fourteen jurors were stricken for cause, eight of whom were black. The parties then began to exercise peremptory strikes.

         A. Peremptory Strikes

         After strikes for cause, forty jurors were qualified for jury service but only the first thirty-six jurors were needed. This group of thirty-six contained fourteen black jurors (39%). The court instructed that the first fourteen jurors would fill the box, each party would exercise peremptory strikes two at a time until four strikes had been exercised, those stricken would be excused, and the empty seats in the jury box would be filled with jurors from the panel. Passes would be counted as strikes and parties could strike from the panel. Jurors were seated in the panel in the order in which they appeared on the Juror Panel Roster.

         Each side was allotted ten peremptory strikes and one strike for selecting alternates. The government used its first three strikes to remove black females. Then the government used its next three strikes against black males in the panel. After these six strikes, defense counsel raised a Batson objection noting that every single person the government had stricken up to that point was black. The trial court suggested that the parties finish jury selection before it assessed whether there had been any patterns in the exercise of peremptory strikes. Defense counsel agreed. Subsequently, the government struck a white male from the panel for its seventh strike, a white female for its eighth strike, and a black male from the panel for its ninth strike. The government did not exercise its tenth strike or its extra strike for the alternates. Although defense counsel used seven of his peremptory strikes to exclude white jurors, at no point did the government raise a Batson challenge. See Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 59 (1992) (defendants are also prohibited from engaging in purposeful discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges).

         The jury was composed of two white females, two black females, four white males, two "other" race females, and two "other" race males.[4] At the conclusion of the government's peremptory strikes, defense counsel renewed his Batson objection as to black individuals and black men, pointing out that the government repeatedly went into the panel to strike black men, including a black male who had not answered any questions during voir dire. The government asserted that it was not required to give reasons for its strikes because defense counsel had failed to establish a discriminatory pattern. Defense counsel responded:

This is what I would indicate, when it comes to a pattern, number one, black female; number two, black female; number three, black female; number four, black male; number five, black male; number six, black male; I then raised the Batson issue and at the moment I raised the Batson issue for the first time they struck two white individuals and then went back to striking a black male. So I think that when you have six black individuals in a row being struck, including going into a panel to strike black male I think that we have demonstrated a pattern, I mean it's six in a row. And it's going into the panel and it's black male, black male, black male. So, there are no black males on this jury right now. There's none. And they struck three black males in a row going into the panel to strike them. . . . I cannot think of a more clear pattern of striking black men and black individuals than when you have six in a row, and the only time that you start to strike a white person is after I raised this issue. I'm not really sure what more of a pattern there is, and at this point I think the Government should be required to explain racially neutral reasons for each of the strikes that they did for those first six strikes.

         After hearing both parties, the trial judge concluded that there was not a pattern and ruled that it would "not sustain a Batson challenge."

         B. The Government Proffered Reasons For Its Strikes

         The following day, the government told the trial judge that it "wholeheartedly agree[d]" with his ruling "that the defendant failed to make a prima faci[e] case showing the pattern of racially motivated strikes." However, the prosecutor believed it was "best to briefly develop the record for [the government's] racially neutral reasons for striking the jurors it struck so that the record on appeal is more fully developed" and stated that "defense would have the opportunity to respond, if and when, there is an appeal on this issue." The government then gave ...

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