Skip to content
Name: Castellanos v. Small
Case #: 12-55783
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 09/09/2014

Murder conviction reversed where prosecution’s reason for striking Hispanic juror was pretextual. Petitioner was convicted in California of murder and other offenses, committed when he was 17 years old. On appeal, the state court rejected his claim the prosecution improperly exercised four peremptory strikes against potential Hispanic jurors. Petitioner sought federal relief. Held: Reversed. Under AEDPA the federal court will not overturn a state court decision unless it is contrary to clearly established U.S. Supreme Court precedent or constitutes an unreasonable application of the facts. The clearly established federal law in this case is Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79, under which the defendant must make a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination, at which time the burden shifts to the State to offer race-neutral explanations for the strikes. The trial court must then decide whether the State engaged in purposeful discrimination when it exercised its peremptory strikes. The California Supreme Court’s decision in People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, is the California analogue of Batson, although its requirement the defendant establish a “strong likelihood” of purposeful discrimination was abrogated by Johnson v. California (2005) 545 U.S. 162, in favor of a mere inference. Here, petitioner made a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination. As the trial court did not undertake a formal comparative juror analysis, the federal appellate court did so, afterwards evaluating the state appellate court’s decision in light of this analysis. It held the state court was unreasonable in finding the prosecutor’s race-neutral reasons genuine and that the prosecutor’s reason for striking one Hispanic venirewoman was not supported by the record. A factually erroneous reason may be construed as pretextual. Petitioner’s remaining allegations were not addressed as “just one racial strike calls for a retrial.”