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Name: People v. Silva
Case #: S004727
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 04/30/2001
Subsequent History: None

In a death penalty case, the court reversed as to penalty due to Batson/Wheeler (Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79, 84-89; People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, 276-277) error. The prosecutor exercised peremptory challenges to all five Hispanic prospective jurors and the trial court found a prima facie case of invidious discrimination. First, the trial court erred in permitting the prosecutor to state his reasons in an ex parte hearing from which the defense was excluded. The prosecutor gave reasons which were not supported by the record (e.g., said one venireperson had argued with him when she had not; said another’s husband (or close cousin) had been shot to death, when it was a nephew whom she did not see often who had tried to intervene in a robbery). The trial court asked no questions of the prosecution. The trial court erred when it failed to point out inconsistencies and to ask probing questions when the prosecutor gave reasons which misrepresented the record. In particular, the court erred in denying the motion as to venireperson Jose M., because there was nothing in the record to support the prosecutor’s assertion that M. would be reluctant to return a death verdict or that he was an extremely aggressive person. On this record, the Supreme Court was unable to conclude the trial court met its obligation to make a sincere and reasoned attempt to evaluate the prosecutor’s explanations. When the prosecutor’s reasons are either unsupported by the record or inherently implausible, or both, more is required from the trial court than a global finding that the reasons appear sufficient.