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Name: Shirley v. Yates
Case #: 13-16273
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 11/20/2015

Circumstantial evidence of a prosecutor’s general jury selection approach was insufficient to overcome a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination. Shirley was convicted of burglary and robbery. He received a life sentence under the Three Strikes law. His convictions were affirmed in state court. He sought federal habeas relief on a Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 claim. The district court found Shirley had made a prima facie showing of discrimination and heard testimony from the prosecutor regarding his reasons for the strikes. The prosecutor did not recall his actual reasons, but testified regarding his standard approach to jury selection. The district court denied relief, finding there was no racism involved. Shirley appealed. Held: Reversed. Batson sets out a three-step burden-shifting procedure to evaluate claims of discriminatory peremptory strikes. If at step one the defendant makes a prima facie showing of discrimination, the burden shifts to the state to provide race-neutral justifications for the racial exclusion. If a race-neutral explanation is provided, the court proceeds to step three to decide whether racial discrimination has been proved. Shirley met his step one burden because two-thirds of the black veniremembers not removed for cause were struck by the prosecutor. The prosecutor did not recall his reasons for striking the jurors but, after reviewing the transcript of voir dire, testified to his general jury selection approach in support of his race-neutral justifications for the strikes. This evidence was sufficient to meet the state’s step two burden of production based on circumstantial evidence of the prosecutor’s jury selection approach. However, it was insufficient to overcome a prima facie case of discrimination at step three because it did not reflect the prosecutor had a regular practice of striking veniremembers who possess certain clearly defined characteristics and thus did not support the inference that the prosecutor actually struck one of the veniremembers for the reason proffered. [Editor’s Note: The court also concluded that the California Court of Appeal’s decision was not entitled to AEDPA deference because the state court based its Batson analysis on a discredited standard. (See Johnson v. California (2005) 545 U.S. 162.)]