Tuesday, November 21, 2006

AD4: a rare Batson reversal

People v Wilmot, 2006 NY Slip Op 08391 [available here]

In a rare reversal based on a Batson violation, the Fourth Department held in People v Wilmot that the prosecutor's race-neutral explanation for exercising a peremptory challenge on a black juror--that the jury was young and lacked "lifelong experience"--was "pretextual" where the prosecutor did not challenge other young jurors and where "age" had nothing to do with the case. From the decision:

Following defendant's Batson objection, the prosecutor explained that he was exercising the peremptory challenge because of the age and lack of "lifelong experience" of the juror. "[W]hile age is, facially, a race-neutral reason for a peremptory challenge to a juror, an explanation based upon age can become pretextual if it bears no relationship to the facts of the case . . ., or if other jurors of a similar age are not objected to on that ground." Here, the fact that the prospective juror at issue was 19 years old bore no relationship to the facts of the case. Further, the prosecutor did not exercise a peremptory challenge to exclude a 22-year-old white male prospective juror who had a similar background with respect to his education and living arrangement. We thus conclude that the prosecutor's explanation was pretextual, and we reverse the judgment of conviction and grant a new trial.

(People v Wilmot, 2006 NY Slip Op 08391 [citations omitted].)

This decision points up the importance of a thorough Batson challenge at the trial level--wherever possible, defense counsel should point out that the People's supposed "race neutral" explanation has not been consistently applied by the People.