Ayala v. Wong

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 08-29-2012
  • Case #: 09-99005
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Circuit Judge Wardlaw; Dissent by Circuit Judge Callahan
  • Full Text Opinion

During preemptory jury challenges, the defense counsel may not be excluded from Batson steps two and three, except when confidential or strategic reasons justify the challenge.

Hector Juan Ayala was sentenced to death after being convicted of murder, attempted murder, and robbery. On appeal Ayala asserted a Batson claim because he is Hispanic and the prosecution systematically excluded minority jurors. During voir dire, the trial judge heard multiple prosecution preemptory challenges of jurors during ex parte, in camera proceedings, despite determining after the third challenge that the defense had a prima facie showing of racial discrimination. The California Supreme Court held that the there was error in conducting the Batson proceedings ex parte, but because the error was harmless, the court upheld the sentence. Ayala filed a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court denied. However, the district court issued a Certificate of Appealability based on the Batson claim. Batson established a three-step inquiry to determine whether a basic constitutional guarantee has been denied. The Ninth Circuit held that the exclusion of defense counsel violated steps two and three of the Batson inquiry. The Court supported its decision with the California Supreme Court’s reasoning that the ex parte challenges were erroneous. The Court determined that there were no compelling reasons for excluding defense counsel from the preemptory challenges. Because of the exclusion, Ayala was prejudiced and his counsel was not given the opportunity to “develop, present and likely prevail” on the inclusion of challenged jurors. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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