Sunday, November 12, 2017

Case o' The Week: Of Weird Hairdos (and Batson, too) - Hernandez-Quintania and Prima Facie showings for Batson challenges

 “On its face” (prima facie), an AUSA struck two minority jurors.
  (But turns out the Ninth wants a little more facie in its prima).
    United States v. Hernandez-Quintania, 2017 WL 5103671(9th Cir. Nov. 3, 2017), decision available here.

Players: Decision by visiting Chief D.J. Freudenthal, joined by Judges W. Fletcher and Ikuta. 
  Hard fought appeal by Ass’t Fed. Defender Doug Keller, Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc.

Facts: Hernandez-Quintania, an undocumented alien was removed repeatedly to Mexico then found in California. Id. at *1.
  At the § 1326 trial, half of the venire “appeared to be minorities,” (said the court). The defense struck four minorities. Id. at *5.
  When the AUSA struck two minority jurors the defense raised a Batson challenge. Id.
  (Recall that the Supreme Court has explained in Foster v. Chatman that Batson is a three-step process:

   1. A prima facie showing by the defense;
   2. If that showing is made, a race-neutral basis for striking required from the government; then
   3. A judicial finding on whether there was purposeful discrimination.)
Id. at *3.
  The court stopped at Batson Step One, and found that the defense had not made a prima facie case. In the course of its Batson analysis, the district court opined that it was a “very mixed” jury composition, including “One guy, Number 3” who “has a weird hairdo from my perspective.” Id. at *4.
  Hernandez-Quintania was convicted.

Issue(s): “Hernandez–Quintania challenges the district court’s finding that he did not make a prima facie showing for his Batson challenge. . . .  Id. at *3.   
  “Hernandez–Quintania argues the district court committed a structural error when it impermissibly speculated as to the race-neutral reasons the prosecutor might have had for striking the juror. [He] also argues the district court misapplied the standard at step one.” Id. at *4.

Held:Hernandez–Quintania did not argue that the two jurors who appeared to be minorities were questioned differently, that the government exercised a pattern of striking apparent minority panel members, that the government struck a large number of panel members from the same racial group, or that the jury composition was disproportionate because of the strikes. In fact, the record demonstrates that the jury contained six apparent minority jurors and that Hernandez–Quintania struck more minority jurors than the government. The totality of the circumstances does not raise an inference that the government’s challenges were racially motivated.
  Hernandez–Quintania also argues the district court erroneously ‘raised’ the prima facie bar by stating, ‘I have to be convinced that it's at least—I won't say likely, but plausible that he was removed solely because of his minority status. And here, I couldn't reach that conclusion at all[.]’ This passing remark does not alter the record, which supports the district court's finding that Hernandez–Quintania failed to offer any support or argument that the government's challenges were racially motivated.” Id. at *5.

Of Note: A different, lead issue in Herndandez-Quintania relates to § 1326 defenses. At trial an agent made reference to the fact that way back in ’04, Hernandez-Quintania had applied for admission. Id. at *2. The government did not, however, introduce at trial any evidence of the outcome of that application, or that the defendant had not reapplied for admission in the removals and reentries after 2004. Id. On appeal, the defense argued these failures of proof barred conviction on this 2016 “found in” case. Id.
  In what appears to be a holding of first impression for the Ninth, visiting Chief D.J. Freudenthal concludes that the “consent to reapply” must come after the most recent deportation.” Id. at *3.  Another rule for the tome of remarkably complex immigration / reentry jurisprudence.

How to Use: Defense counsel played the cards that they drew in this case, but the opinion illustrates the dangers of the fuzzy “totality” review of Batson challenges on appeal. If possible, sharpen initial Batson challenges with something more than just the race of the struck juror to sharpen that prima facie showing.     
For Further Reading: Batson remains as sadly topical as ever. Last June, the California Supreme Court overturned attempted murder convictions for the exclusion of Latinos from a Kern County jury (for the first time in sixteen years!) See California’s top court overturns convictions because prosecutor excluded Latinos from jury, available here.

Steven Kalar, Federal Public Defender, Northern District of California. Website at


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