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Batson-Wheeler Error Was Structural Requiring Reversal

People v. Silas Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: A150512 (First Appellate District), Opinion Date: September 17, 2021. Silas and Whitley, brothers and members of a San Francisco street gang, suspected Zinn, a fellow gang member, had stolen guns from them. The brothers attacked Zinn outside his and Dow’s (Zinn’s girlfriend) apartment building, where Whitley and Chaney—Whitley’s girlfriend—also lived. Zinn and Dow ran. Silas and Whitley pursued them in separate cars. One car was driven by Michaels, the brothers’ cousin. Minutes later, both victims were shot to death on the side of the road, in an unincorporated area of Contra Costa County. Silas, Whitley, Michaels, and Chaney, all of whom are Black, were tried for the murders. Zinn and Dow were also Black. During jury selection, defendants brought unsuccessful Batson-Wheeler motions to challenge the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory strikes against three Black prospective jurors, including one who expressed support for Black Lives Matter. The jury, which had two Black members, returned convictions. The court of appeal remanded for a new trial. The Batson-Wheeler motion involving the prospective juror who expressed support for BLM was improperly denied. Defendants established a prima facie case of discrimination at the first stage of the analysis, and the prosecutor’s proffered reasons for the strike—that the juror was hostile when asked about supporting BLM and had “anti-prosecution issues”—should not have been credited. Insufficient evidence supported the conclusion that the peremptory strike was not “ 'motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent.’ ” The error was structural, requiring reversal.

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