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Beasley v. United States

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

November 21, 2019

Mark Beasley, Appellant,
v.
United States, Appellee.

          Argued June 12, 2019

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (CF1-5953-15) Hon. José M. López, Trial Judge

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

          Peter Smith, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jessie K. Liu, United States Attorney, and Elizabeth Trosman and Michelle Jackson, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

          Before Beckwith and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          OPINION

          BECKWITH, ASSOCIATE JUDGE

         During jury selection at appellant Mark Beasley's criminal trial, the government used eight of its ten peremptory strikes against black jurors. Mr. Beasley appeals his subsequent convictions, arguing that the trial court erred in determining that he failed to make out a prima facie case of discriminatory intent based on the government's use of peremptory strikes. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). We agree and therefore reverse Mr. Beasley's convictions.

         I.

         Mr. Beasley was charged with murder, assault, and gun-related offenses stemming from an incident outside a nightclub. At the start of trial, the court indicated that it would be using the "Arizona method" for picking jurors, meaning that, rather than implementing peremptory challenges round by round, each side would list all ten of its peremptory challenges[1] at once and then exchange lists. After the court reviewed each list, the parties would repeat the process for the four alternate seats.[2]

         Individual questioning lasted three days and resulted in a venire of forty-eight qualified potential jurors. Sixteen of those potential jurors, or 33% of the venire, were black. When the parties began exercising peremptory challenges, the government used eight of its ten challenges to strike black jurors and used another challenge to strike a Latino juror.[3] After reviewing the strike sheets, defense counsel raised a challenge pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. at 89, in which the U.S. Supreme Court decided that in a criminal case, the use of a peremptory challenge to strike a prospective juror solely on the basis of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court completed the process for the alternate jurors[4] and then turned to Mr. Beasley's Batson challenge.

         Mr. Beasley argued that the government used nine of its peremptory strikes "for people of suspect classifications, eight African American and one Latino." He asserted that "[e]ight African Americans based on my calculations is roughly 50 percent of the African Americans who are in the entire venire" and "100 percent of the Latinos." In response, the prosecutor acknowledged having struck eight black jurors, summarized the racial breakdown of Mr. Beasley's own peremptory strikes, [5] and noted that the defense struck two of the same black jurors: "So if you take away the very two that they struck, we struck . . . six black people, three white people, and one Latino individual." Defense counsel reiterated that the government "used 90 percent of their preemptory [sic] challenges to strike people of color" and argued, "I think that's all I need to do to establish a prima facie case regardless of whether I struck them or not." After hearing further arguments from both sides, the court asked the prosecutor how many black jurors it struck, "not including the ones that overlap." The prosecutor responded "six, excluding the two that overlap." The court then stated that Mr. Beasley had not established a prima facie case and that the court would not "pursue it any further." Mr. Beasley was subsequently convicted on all counts.

         II.

         On appeal, Mr. Beasley contends that the trial court erred in concluding that he had not established a prima facie case of discriminatory purpose under Batson. Relying primarily upon our recent decision in Haney v. United States, 206 A.3d 854 (D.C. 2019)-which concluded that a sizable statistical disparity in the government's use of peremptory strikes alone could establish a prima facie case of discrimination, see id. at 861-Mr. Beasley argues that the disparity here was more glaring than that in Haney. The government counters that numbers alone are not enough to satisfy the first step of Batson[6] and highlights what it views as Haney's very different circumstances making it inapplicable to this case.

         An attorney may not use peremptory challenges to engage in purposeful discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or both. See Batson, 476 U.S. at 88 (race); J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., 511 U.S. 127, 143-44 (1994) (gender); (Edward) Robinson v. United States, 890 A.2d 674, 680-81 (D.C. 2006) (race and gender). The Supreme Court has devised a three-part framework for analyzing a claim of discrimination in violation of Batson and its progeny. First, the defendant[7] has the burden to establish a prima facie case by showing that "the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose." Johnson v. California, 545 U.S. 162, 168 (2005). If such a showing is made, the burden then shifts to the government to offer race-neutral bases for the strikes. Id. The trial court then "must determine whether the prosecutor's stated reasons were the actual reasons or instead were a pretext for discrimination." Flowers v. Mississippi, __U.S. __, 139 S.Ct. 2228, 2241, 204 L.Ed.2d 638 (2019). At step one-the facet of the Batson analysis at issue here-"the ...


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