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Biased Jury Selection Gets California Death Row Inmate New Trial

Aug. 3, 2020, 3:08 PM

An inmate convicted and sentenced to death in California received federal relief from the Ninth Circuit, after it found the prosecutor showed bias in using peremptory challenges to strike the only three Black jurors from the panel.

The California courts’ acceptance of the prosecutor’s reasons lacked justification and deprived Marvin Walker of his constitutional rights, the unpublished opinion by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said July 31.

The prosecutor’s reasons for the strikes were unreasonable, irrelevant, demonstrably false, or not equally applied to non-Black members allowed to serve on the jury, the court said.

For example, two of the jurors were struck for having anti-death-penalty views, when they didn’t, and non-Black jurors with stronger reservations about the death penalty weren’t struck, it said.

The prosecutor also asked one Black jury candidate leading questions designed to strike that candidate, while he asked a non-Black potential juror leading questions designed to keep that juror on the panel, the court said.

One potential juror was also struck for being “anti-police” after he explained that he had several family members in law enforcement, including one who was killed in the line of duty, the court said.

If anything, his connection to law enforcement should have made him an attractive juror for the prosecution, it said.

Judges Susan P. Graber and Ronald Lee Gilman, sitting by designation, were in the majority.

Judge J. Clifford Wallace dissented. Wallace said the state courts’ evaluation of the record wasn’t unreasonable, and he criticized the majority for substituting its evaluation of the record for theirs.

Farella Braun & Martel LLP represented Walker.

The case is Walker v. Davis, 2020 BL 286616, 9th Cir., No. 19-15087, unpublished 7/31/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bernie Pazanowski in Washington at bpazanowski@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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