Court Decision: Prosecution's Peremptory Strikes of Three Prospective Jurors Violated Batson, Requiring New Trial

Appellate Division, Second Department: People v. Vera

Prosecution’s Peremptory Strikes of Three Prospective Jurors Violated Batson, Requiring New Trial

During jury selection, defense counsel advanced a Batson challenge due to the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes of three Black prospective jurors. The prosecutor’s reasons for the challenges were: (1) one prospective juror “lives on church property” and there were concerns “as to religious reasons, sympathy reasons”; (2) one prospective juror lived at Creedmoor and worked with the “criminally insane” for 33 years and had been “involved with the criminal justice system” “her whole life”; and (3) one prospective juror worked with handicapped and disabled individuals, including some with mental health issues and criminal cases. The trial judge denied the challenge, determining the strikes were not pretextual.

The Appellate Division reversed, finding the prosecutor’s grounds were insufficient. The Court noted that the prospective juror who lived on church property was never questioned about her religious affiliation or whether her living situation made her more sympathetic to the defense. Moreover, the prosecutor never offered any explanation as to how the prospective juror’s employment at Creedmoor or the prospective juror’s work with handicapped and disabled individuals related to the case or qualifications to serve as a juror. In fact, both of these prospective jurors stated their employment histories would not affect their ability to be a fair and impartial juror.

The Appellate Division also noted that because there would be a new trial, the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during summation, including by making an unqualified pronouncement of Mr. Vera’s guilt. The conviction was reversed and a new trial was ordered.

Martin B. Sawyer represented Mr. Vera