ENCHANTED FORREST (AP) Last week, a herd of cute woodland creatures travelled to New York to picket the office of Judge Frank LaBuda (Sullivan County, NY) in response to his ruling that “hunters” should be considered a protected class under Batson. A spokesman for the animal group, who would only give his first name (Bambi), told the crowd, “When did hunters suddenly become victims that need protection? My mother was never tried by a jury of her peers when she received a death sentence. Why should the hunters get this special right. We want justice for all!”
The backlash originated with LaBuda's decision to stop the trial of Robert Robar, a hunter charged with assault for the shooting of another hunter. LaBuda concluded that the defense had systematically excluded “hunters” during jury selection when the team used all of their peremptory challenges on those who partook in the sport. In his ruling, LaBuda noted that “hunters” were "… a class of people recognized by law… (who are licensed) to bear arms… Yet, in this case, they are being systematically excluded."
Interestingly, the peremptory challenges were utilized by the defense in an attempt to prevent other hunters from judging the actions of Mr. Robar. This strategy of hunter exclusion angered some local hunters who supported LaBuda’s opinion. Mr. Elmer Fudd, who watched the protest from a distance told reporters, “I want to hunt wascally wabbits. How can I feewl safe if othuh huntuhs awe shooting at me?”
This is just another instance in a string of confusing Batson-related issues. The Washington Supreme Court recently ruled in State v. Rhone that a Batson motion should be automatically triggered by a “bright-line rule” when the last juror of a defendant’s racial group is struck by peremptory challenge. In essence, this creates the assumption of potential discrimination: “… a defendant establishes a prima facie case of discrimination when, as here, the record shows that the State exercised a peremptory challenge against the sole remaining venire member of the defendant's constitutionally cognizable racial group.” It is unclear how far this opinion reaches and how it will be interpreted regarding civil cases and other protected classes.
On the opposite side, defenses against Batson challenges have also become increasingly bizarre. Given the broad scope allowed for class-neutral explanations, some attorneys have gotten quite creative. A brief search on Google will show reasons including “crazy red hair”, “shifty looks”, “working at MacDonald’s” and “having mustaches and goatees.” If attorneys are honestly striking jurors based on these characteristics, then I would highly recommend them attending the next ASTC conference .
In my opinion, Batson is simply a Flintstones band-aid applied to (an overlooked) gushing wound in our justice system: the lack of time given for voir dire. Attorneys are told not to use the most obvious visual characteristics to decide peremptory challenges (race, gender, ethnicity, etc.) while they are simultaneously put under severe voir dire time limitations (inhibiting the ability to learn what is beneath the skin). Is it any wonder that lawyers end up depending on unreliable demographics to guide peremptory strikes?
Blogger: Matt McCusker