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Name: Johnson v. Finn
Case #: 10-15641
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 12/08/2011

District court denies due process when it fails to conduct its own evidentiary hearing before rejecting the magistrate judge’s credibility determination following a Batson-Wheeler evidentiary hearing. Defendants were convicted of shooting at an occupied motor vehicle. During jury selection, both defendants raised Batson-Wheeler objections to the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude African American jurors. The trial court found the defendants failed to make out a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination. After the state court denied their appeals, defendants filed petitions for writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court. It concluded the California Court of Appeal applied the wrong standard in determining the defendants did not make out a prima facie case, and declined to extend AEDPA deference to the state court’s findings. Thereafter the magistrate determined the defendants had made out a prima facie showing of discrimination and ordered an evidentiary hearing to elicit the prosecutor’s reasons for excluding the jurors. The magistrate determined the prosecutor’s stated reasons for exclusion of one of the juror was not credible. The district judge upheld the magistrate judge’s findings except for the determination the prosecutor’s reasons for striking the juror were pretextual. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the state court opinion was not due AEDPA deference because, in determining whether defendants made out a prima facie case of discrimination, the court had equated the correct standard of “reasonable inference” with “strong likelihood,” which misapplied the clearly established U.S. Supreme Court standard. Defendants had shown purposeful discrimination. However, the District Court erred when it reversed the magistrate judge’s credibility determination without holding a new evidentiary hearing. This was a denial of due process requiring reversal.