The People v. Edward Malloy
Issue before the Court: Whether the trial court erred in denying the defense’s Batson motion after controverting the race-neutral demeanor evidence proffered by the People?
Factual Background: The prosecutor based his peremptory challenge of a Black female juror on the juror’s “attitude.” When the court pressed him to be more specific, he described the juror’s tone of voice as “dismissive” and “rude.” The court challenged this perception, stating: “I sat and listened to her myself and I would not define [her tone of voice] as dismissive and rude.” The court went on to state that the prosecutor had given “nothing other than ... conclusions,” and that it did not “see the attitude that [the prosecutor was] suggesting.” It further challenged the prosecutor’s dissatisfaction with the juror’s answer to his question concerning her possible jury service. Nevertheless, after describing it as a “close call,” the court ultimately denied the defense’s Batson challenge.
Held: Decided unanimously on SSM, the Court of Appeals determined that there was record-support for the trial court’s resolution of the Batson issue.
CAL Observes: Here, 1 + 1= 3. We are left to wonder where exactly the record-support for the trial court’s decision can be found, because the Court of Appeals afforded all of four sentences to this issue, none of which reckoned with the underlying facts. The decision is particularly mystifying in light of the trial court’s very explicit skepticism towards the prosecutor’s proffered rationales.
We already know that Batson has not put an end to racial discrimination in jury selection. Unfortunately, this decision further dilutes its power. It sets precedent for appellate rubber-stamping of Step 3 determinations, regardless of whether they actually comport with the record. It seems that lower courts can explicitly contest every rationale the prosecutor offers, and nevertheless implicitly find those reasons credible.
Animating this decision is likely the weakness of the prima facie case of discrimination. Although this analysis was absent from the Court of Appeals decision, the Third Department appeared to be greatly influenced by the fact that the prosecutor had not challenged any of the Black jurors in the previous panel. Although the law is clear that Batson prohibits the discriminatory strike of even one prospective juror, the courts clearly did not feel comfortable attributing “racial animosity” to the prosecutor under these circumstances.