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Name: People v. McGee
Case #: B152420
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 2 DCA
Division: 7
Opinion Date: 12/18/2002
Subsequent History: 1/7/03 opn. modified & rehrg. den.; 3/26/03 rev. den.

The trial court failed to follow required procedures for determining whether the prosecutor had improperly excused six African-American prospective jurors on the basis of group bias. (People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258 and Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79.) Defense counsel had made four motions under Wheeler and Batson, each of which was denied. Upon a timely Wheeler motion, the trial court is obligated to make an express finding whether the moving party has demonstrated a prima facie case. If a prima facie case is found, the party exercising the peremptory challenges must provide a group-neutral reason for each challenge. Here the trial court erred in failing to inquire into the prosecutor’s reasons for his first five peremptory challenges of African-American prospective jurors. The trial court agreed that a prima facie showing of discrimination had been made under Wheeler and Batson, but then it erroneously limited that finding — and the concomitant requirement that the prosecutor provide a race-neutral explanation for the peremptory challenge — to only the most recent juror who had been excused. A Wheeler motion challenges the selection of an entire jury, not the rejection of an individual juror; the issue is whether a pattern of systematic exclusion exists. Accordingly, once the trial court has found a prima facie case of improper use of peremptory challenges, the burden shifts to the prosecutor to provide race-neutral explanations for all challenges involved and for the court to evaluate the prosecutor’s explanation in light of the circumstances of the case as then known. Because the trial court short-circuited the proper procedures for a Wheeler motion here, the case is reversed for a new Wheeler hearing.