Convictions for illegal gun possession and participation in a gang reversed where prosecution’s reason for striking prospective black juror was pretextual. A jury convicted Arellano of possession of an assault weapon (Pen. Code, § 30605) and participation in a criminal street gang (Pen. Code, § 186.22, subd. (a)). During jury selection, the prosecution used peremptory challenges to excuse three black prospective. Arellano objected under Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 and People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, and the trial court denied the Batson/Wheeler motion. Arellano challenged this ruling on appeal. Held: Reversed. The prosecution’s privilege to strike individual jurors is subject to an equal protection challenge that the striking was based on race. Initially, the defendant must make a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination. The burden then shifts to the prosecution to explain the basis for excusing the juror by offering race-neutral justifications. The trial court then determines if the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful discrimination. Here, the focus was on the third stage of the Batson/Wheeler inquiry. There was substantial evidence in the record to support the prosecutor’s race-neutral justifications and the court’s findings as to two of the prospective jurors. However, as to prospective juror W.W., the prosecutor’s statements raised serious questions about the credibility of any purported race-neutral reasons. The factual premise for the prosecutor’s reasons (that W.W. worked for a liberal political organization) was not supported in the record. When this reason was challenged by the court and defense counsel as being factually inaccurate, the prosecutor belatedly brought up W.W.’s jury service in a police brutality case. At that point, the court had a duty to determine the credibility of the prosecutor’s proffered reasons, but instead summarily denied the motion without doing so. Because the striking of one juror on the basis of race is constitutional error requiring reversal, Arellano convictions must be reversed.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/F068958.PDF