Davis v. Ayala

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: October 20, 2014
  • Case #: 13-1428
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: 730 F.3d 831 (9th Cir. 2013)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether a federal constitutional error occurred as the result of excluding Petitioner from ex parte Batson proceedings and if the error was harmless, and whether the court correctly applied the Brecht v. Abrahamson standard.

Petitioner, who is of Hispanic descent, alleged the State used its peremptory challenges to strike minority jurors (specifically black and Hispanic jurors) from the jury pool, resulting in a jury devoid of any members of those ethnic groups, causing an unfair trial result. Petitioner brought several arguments under Batson, arguing the State was excluding minority jurors only on the basis of race. During an in camera hearing, Petitioner was refused admittance to hear the State’s argument, not permitted to receive the results of the argument including transcripts until after the trial commenced, and was not provided the opportunity to respond to the State’s arguments. Furthermore, all prospective jurors' pre-trial questionnaires were lost.

While the California Supreme Court held the trial court erred in excluding the petitioner and counsel from proceedings, the error was considered harmless. On review, the Federal Courts determined that there was a federal constitutional error and while the error was harmless, a prejudicial violation still occurred as reviewed under Brecht. Brecht grants relief if an error had a “substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's verdict.” The Supreme Court granted certiorari because Petitioner argued the trial court did err, and while the error was harmless, under Batson, the violation of Petitioner’s rights was prejudicial. The inability of Petitioner to participate in the hearing, followed by the loss of the prospective juror questionnaires resulted in substantial prejudice, and prevented Petitioner a right to a proper jury trial.

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