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‘Inference of discriminatory motive’ in striking juror not reversible error

December 15, 2015

The Indiana Court of Appeals noted one of a prosecutor’s reasons for striking a prospective juror in a criminal case “raises an inference of discriminatory motive,” but this was insufficient to reverse a man’s felony resisting law enforcement conviction.

A Madison Circuit jury convicted Billy Deon Blackmon of the Class D felony count. Anderson police officers who went to Blackmon’s residence to serve him a writ of attachment said he fled in a white Chevy Trailblazer even as an officer made eye contact with him and ordered him at gunpoint to stop.

Officers found the vehicle with its keys inside near an abandoned home several blocks away.

During jury selection, defense counsel for Blackmon, who is African-American, sought a Batson challenge after the prosecution used a peremptory challenge to strike one of two African-Americans from a pool of 14 potential jurors.

According to the record, the prosecutor denied race or gender was a factor in striking the jury. The prosecutor told the court the juror in question “just wasn’t very engaged” when he and defense counsel talked to the entire group. “I really didn’t want to put her on the jury to begin with,” the prosecutor said. He said when an officer said the potential juror also might know a defense witness, “that was I guess the final straw.”

The trial court denied Blackmon’s Batson motion, and the appeals panel affirmed, also finding the evidence sufficient to support Blackmon’s conviction.

“(W)e have a demeanor-based reason for striking Juror 3 that supports the trial court’s denial of Blackmon’s Batson claim. If that were the only reason given, we would have no basis to find that the trial court clearly erred in denying his Batson claim. However, there was a second reason provided that, although facially race-neutral, appears to be a pretext,” Judge Terry Crone wrote for the panel. “We must determine the proper remedy under these circumstances, which neither party nor the United States Supreme Court has addressed.”

Precedent requires Batson challenges only in cases where a challenge is facially race-based, the panel noted. “Here, the prosecutor’s reason was facially race-neutral,” Crone wrote in Billy Deon Blackmon v. State of Indiana, 48A02-1505-CR-270. “We decline to extend it to the circumstances present here, in which the prosecutor satisfied the second step of the Batson analysis and the trial court ruled that Blackmon failed to establish purposeful discrimination.”

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