The Third Department determined reversal and a new trial were necessary because of flaws in the procedure used following the “Batson” challenge of the prosecution’s peremptory challenges to two nonwhite members of the jury panel. The judge denied the Batson challenges. The Third Department explained the correct procedure and the flawed procedure actually used:
A Batson challenge implicates a three-step process in which, “[a]t step one, ‘the moving party bears the burden of establishing a prima facie case of discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges'” … . “Once a prima facie showing of discrimination is made, the nonmovant must come forward with a race-neutral explanation for each challenged peremptory — step two” … . The explanation at step two is “not required to be ‘persuasive, or even plausible’; as long as the reasons for the challenges are ‘facially neutral,’ even ‘ill-founded’ reasons will suffice” … , and determining whether the step two explanation is adequate is “a question of law” … . If the nonmoving party provides an adequate explanation, “the burden then shifts back, at step three, to the moving party to persuade the court that reasons are merely a pretext for intentional discrimination” … . This step is a factual issue in which the trial court has broad discretion in determining credibility … .
Initially, we note that the Batson application, made before the end of jury selection, was timely … and any issue regarding the sufficiency of defendant’s step one showing is now moot since the People offered step two race neutral reasons for the challenged peremptory challenges … . The reasons offered by the People included, as to juror No. 19, that the father of her children had been prosecuted by the Schenectady County District Attorney’s office for robbery and “presumably” was in prison. Regarding juror No. 127, the People explained in some detail that there were jurors after her that they preferred to use to fill the twelfth and final seat. Although these reasons were facially race-neutral satisfying the People’s step two burden, defendant points out that the People’s statement regarding juror No. 19 had significant factual errors embellishing on her actual comment, and also that the People did not challenge a white juror whose sister had “been in and out of trouble for years, felonies, in trouble with the law.” As such, there were important factual issues implicating credibility that needed to be resolved at step three. However, as conceded by the People in their brief on appeal, County Court ruled on the Batson application at the conclusion of step two.
The improper compressing of a Batson inquiry does not necessarily mandate reversal, as the movant must preserve the issue as to whether a meaningful step three inquiry occurred … . Indeed, whatever procedural problems may exist in a Batson inquiry, the overriding concern is that a properly preserved question regarding the ultimate issue of discrimination is meaningfully addressed … . Here, defendant sufficiently preserved the issue and the ultimate issue was not adequately addressed. After the People offered their race neutral reasons as to the second relevant juror, defendant began to respond and urged that the record was not complete. County Court stated that the record was complete and summarily denied defendant’s Batson challenge. “[T]he court did not appear to give any consideration to pretext, nor was the basis of its ruling reflected in the record”… . People v Grafton, 2015 NY Slip Op 07701, 3rd Dept 10-22-15