Sunday, January 08, 2006

Case o' The Week: Consuelo at Bat(son), Williams v. Runnels

The Ninth (lead by Judge Consuelo Callahan, left) makes the most out of two newish Supreme Court Batson cases in the very useful Williams decision. Williams v. Runnels, __ F.3d. __, C.A. No. 04-55830 (9th Cir. Jan. 5, 2006), available here.

Players: Judge Callahan authors a very good Batson opinion.

Facts: Williams was charged with 2nd degree robbery and was tried in ‘98. C.A. No. 04-55830, at 44. The D.A. agreed to take the jury in the box, but when the defense exercised preemptories he joined in. Id. The D.A. struck 4 jurors, 3 of whom were African-American. The defense raised a Batson (in California, Wheeler) challenge. Id. The trial court refused to allow the D.A. to explain his strikes, saying the record needn’t be “squeaky clean.” Id. at 46. Unsuccessful appellate/habeas litigation eventually landed the case in the 9th. Id. at 47-49.

Issue(s): “[W]e must determine whether [Williams] made a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination when he raised his Wheeler/Batson objection. Our inquiry into this matter requires that we first ascertain the proper legal standard for reviewing a claim of purposeful discrimination based on statistical disparity, and then apply that standard to Williams’ case.” Id. at 49.

Held: “We conclude that the state appellate court and the district court, not having the benefit of the Supreme Court’s recent opinions in Johnson and Miller-El, failed to appreciate that (1) Williams’ showing of statistical disparity was only required to raise an inference of purposeful discrimination and (2) refutation of that inference requires more than a determination that the record could have supported race-neutral reasons for the prosecutor’s use of his preemptory challenges on prospective African-American jurors.” Id. at 57.

Of Note: In Williams, the Court emphasized that it can – and must – question the prosecutor’s motives. A statistical showing of race-based strikes requires an explanation for the strikes, and it is the trial court’s job to cess out whether that explanation is credible. Id. at 55. “[T] he question is not whether the prosecutor might have had good reasons, but what were the prosecutor’s real reasons for the challenges.” Id. Subjective intent matters.

Just two weeks ago, however, this memo talked about Willis: a traffic stop case that followed Whren and proclaimed that a cop’s subjective intent for a traffic stop is irrelevant. What matters in that context is that the cop had objective probable cause for the traffic stop. How does one reconcile Williams and Willis to non-lawyers?

Maybe Society doesn’t trust prosecutors (Williams), but does trust cops (Willis/Whren), so we’ll look at the subjective intent of the former and objective intent for the latter? Maybe it’s because with Whren, there’s already been evidence of a traffic violation, and in Williams, there has already been statistical evidence of discrimination – thus the rules cut against the party with dirty hands. Or maybe the only thing the three cases have in common is the letter “W.”

How to Use: Williams should be in a trial attorney’s tool box as a primer on Batson challenges after the Supreme Court’s Johnson and Miller-El decisions. First, it lays out the three-step Johnson analysis for Batson error. Id. at 49. More importantly, the case takes the challenge seriously, with useful language about the lower burden on the defense, id. at 50-51, and the higher burden on the prosecutor to rebut, id. at 53. It is not enough for the prosecution to simply show “that the record would support race-neutral reasons for questioned challenges.” Id. at 53. Williams also illustrates the importance of making the record. This defendant was sentenced to thirty-four years to life. If not for a savvy trial lawyer who kept track of the D.A.’s strikes he’d have had no hope of relief.

For Further Reading: Judge Consuelo Callahan was nominated by W. Bush and took Judge Fernandez’s seat in May 2003. See article here. A Stanford undergrad and McGeorge graduate, Judge Callahan served as a D.A. and a San Joaquin County Judge. Id. She has been characterized as a “moderate conservative.” See article here. Judge Callahan is also reportedly the only tap-dancing member of the Ninth Circuit. See article here.

Steven Kalar, Senior Litigator N.D. Cal. FPD. Website available at


Post a Comment

<< Home