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Name: People v. Gutierrez
Case #: S224724
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 06/01/2017

Reversal required where record failed to show that trial court made a reasoned attempt to determine whether prosecutor’s justification for striking a Hispanic juror was a credible one. Gutierrez and his codefendants, who are all Hispanic, were charged with attempted murder and gang-related offenses. During jury selection, the prosecutor exercised 10 of 16 peremptory challenges against Hispanic jurors, resulting in a Batson/Wheeler motion. The court found a prima facie case of racial discrimination (Batson step one) and the prosecutor offered explanations for his strikes (Batson step two). The court found the prosecutor’s reasons to be credible (Batson step three) and denied the motion. The Court of Appeal affirmed, and the California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. The strike of a single juror on the basis of race is structural error requiring reversal. Batson provides a three-step framework for determining whether a strike was race-based. Under Batson step three, the trial court failed to make a “sincere and reasoned attempt” to assess the credibility of the prosecutor’s race-neutral reason for striking prospective juror 2723471. The prosecutor stated he struck her because she lived in Wasco and was unaware of gang activity, and would therefore be biased against a prosecution witness who was a Wasco gang member. However, it is not obvious why unawareness of gang activity would indicate bias and the prosecutor asked no follow up questions. The prospective juror also had family in law enforcement, which is generally a favorable characteristic. The trial court “never clarified why it accepted the Wasco reason as an honest one” and articulated a reason for upholding the strike (“lack of life experience”), which was not a reason the prosecutor stated for striking the juror. On this record, the finding that defendants had not met their burden of proving intentional discrimination was unreasonable. The error is structural, requiring reversal.

Comparative juror analysis should be considered by Courts of Appeal if relied upon by the defendant and the record is adequate to permit the comparisons. On direct appeal, the defendants urged the Court of Appeal to engage in comparative juror analysis. Relying on People v. Johnson (1989) 47 Cal.3d 1194, the Court of Appeal declined to engage in comparative juror analysis, reasoning “comparative analysis of jurors unrealistically ignores ‘the variety of factors and considerations that go into a lawyer’s decision to select certain jurors while challenging others that appear to be similar.'” The California Supreme Court held that this was error. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that comparative juror analysis may be probative of purposeful discrimination at Batson’s third step. In People v. Lenix (2008) 44 Cal.4th 602, 622, the court recognized the inherent limitations of comparative juror analysis, especially when performed for the first time on appeal, but held “evidence of comparative juror analysis must be considered in the trial court and even for the first time on appeal if relied upon by defendant and the record is adequate to permit the urged comparisons.” The court overruled Johnson to the extent it is inconsistent with the court’s opinion in this case. The Court of Appeal also erred by declining to review the panelist comparison that the trial court had made between two jurors.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: