The First Department, reversing defendant’s conviction and ordering a new trial, determined the trial judge should not have limited the defense Batson objections to the prosecutor’s striking non-white potential jurors. Defense counsel challenged the striking of five jurors but the judge limited the challenges to the two struck in the most recent round of jury selection:
… [D]efense counsel made an application pursuant to Batson as to the five prospective nonwhite jurors stricken from the three rounds. Defense counsel stated: “that will be a total of . . . five non-white jurors that were struck by the People, and there have not been that many non-white potential jurors we have seen.” Defense counsel added, “so out of the 11 strikes, five of them were for non-white jurors,” and “I believe that makes a prima facie case regarding the protective class”. The court responded: “Let’s talk about this round only.” The People proceeded to proffer reasons for striking only the two panelists from the third round. The defense renewed its Batson challenge when the prosecution struck a sixth nonwhite potential juror in a subsequent round, stating that the People “are deliberately striking non-white jurors.” The court specifically stated it was “not going to address that” and defense counsel noted their exception. …
The trial court erred in denying defendants an opportunity to present their full Batson challenge when it improperly limited the inquiry to only two of the challenged prospective jurors. As this Court held in People v Frazier (125 AD3d 449, 449 [1st Dept 2015]), “[a]lthough the court did not make a specific ruling that defendants satisfied step one of Batson (prima facie case of discrimination), once it ordered the prosecutor to provide the reasons for his peremptory challenges to two of the . . . panelists who were the subject of defendants’ application, it should have required the prosecutor to articulate his reasons for striking the remaining . . . panelists, as defendants specifically requested.” The People argue that unlike Frazier, the trial court here simply directed the parties to focus on the panelists challenged in round three of jury selection and the prosecutor volunteered race-neutral reasons without being ordered to do so. This is a distinction without a difference. As in Frazier, once the trial court asked the prosecutor to offer race-neutral reasons for striking two of the prospective jurors, it should have also requested an explanation for striking the remaining panelists that were part of the same application. The court failed to do so, and consequently, the case should be remanded for a new trial. People v Julio, 2023 NY Slip Op 04349, First Dept 8-17-23
Practice Point: When defense counsel raised Batson challenges to five jurors who had been struck, the judge limited the challenges to the two struck in the most recent round of jury selection. That was reversible error.