Shirley v. Yates

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Habeas Corpus
  • Date Filed: 11-20-2015
  • Case #: 13-16273
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Reinhardt for the Court; Chief Judge Thomas and Circuit Judge Christen.
  • Full Text Opinion

Where a prosecutor cannot remember the reason why he struck certain venirememebers, if he/she testifies both to his/her general jury selection approach and that he/she is confident that a race-neutral preference was the actual reason for the strike, it is sufficient circumstantial evidence to satisfy Batson Step Two.

Darrly Shirley was convicted of two non-violent burglary offenses and sentenced to extensive prison terms. One of the removed veniremembers was R.O., whom Shirley claimed was struck because of racial discrimination. The state trial court denied Shirley’s claim. The California Court of Appeals affirmed the denial, finding possible race-neutral reasons for the dismissals. Upon the filing of Shirley’s habeas corpus petition, the district court held that the state court erred by basing its decision on speculation of race-neutral reasons. Batson v. Kentucky outlines the procedure for evaluating claims of discriminatory peremptory strikes of veniremembers. Step One requires the defendant produce evidence sufficient to permit the court to draw an inference of discrimination. In Step Two the burden shifts to the state to explain the strike with race-neutral justifications. During Step Three the judge determines whether the defendant has proven purposeful racial discrimination. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that in cases where the prosecutor cannot remember the actual reason for striking the veniremember, if the prosecutor testifies both to his general jury selection approach and that he is confident that a race-neutral preference was the reason for the strike, it is sufficient to satisfy Step Two of Batson. The panel held the prosecutor had met its Step Two burden, and the district court erred in denying Shirley’s claim at Step Three. Further, the panel held that a prosecutor’s stated vague approach to jury selection, without a regular pattern, provides little or no probative support for a finding at Step Three. However, the panel concluded that Shirley’s prima facie case was sufficient to carry his burden of proof. The panel remanded with instruction to grant the writ unless the State re-tried Shirley within a reasonable time. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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