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COA splits on reversing convictions for Batson violation

June 22, 2011

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a defendant’s convictions, including attempted battery with a deadly weapon, finding the state’s explanations for striking the only African-American from the jury were pretextual and purposeful discrimination.

In Jerrme Cartwright v. State of Indiana, No. 82A01-1005-CR-214, Jerrme Cartwright appealed his convictions of two counts of attempted battery with a deadly weapon as Class C felonies, two counts of attempted aggravated battery as Class B felonies, one count of possession of a handgun by a serious violent felon as a Class B felony, and his 26-year aggregate sentence.

The charges stem from a fight at an American Legion in Evansville involving Cartwright. Tiffany Boyd, her husband, Jamar Boyd, Michael Lockridge, Marcus Lockridge, Shaudarekkia Beattie, and her sister, Linda Beattie left after the altercation in which Jamar was injured. They all went to Linda’s home because it was nearby. While they were outside of the home, a crowd began to form. They saw Jerrme Cartwright walking toward them with a gun and he started shooting at the crowd and in the air. Police arrived; Cartwright fled and was later arrested.

In his appeal, Cartwright challenges the removal of the only African-American from the jury. The appellate court found he made a prima facie showing under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), that the peremptory challenge was exercised on the basis of race. The prosecutor offered several race-neutral explanations for removing the juror, including health reasons and his admittance to not being a good listener. Judges James Kirsch and Paul Mathias decided to reverse Cartwright’s convictions because based on the record, they couldn’t determine which one of the state’s proffered explanations the trial court relied on to deny the Batson challenge.

“The State failed to inquire into such reasons or to develop anything beyond the most superficial of records regarding its reasons. We conclude that the State’s proffered explanations for striking the only African-American juror from the jury panel were pretextual and the result of purposeful discrimination,” wrote Judge Kirsch.  

Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, believing the appellate court should give more deference to the trial court’s decision because the state of mind of a juror, evaluation of demeanor, and credibility lies within a trial court’s province.

She wrote that the state’s justifications for striking the African-American juror were all supported by the record and that several other jurors were also stricken for similar reasons.

The majority ordered Cartwright be retried on the charges, including the attempted battery with a deadly weapon charges, which he claimed there was insufficient evidence to support.

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