Criminal Law Blog

Convictions reversed in light of "stark" racial disparity in the use of peremptory strikes, failure to proceed to steps two and three of Batson

The Jury (1861) by John Morgan, Public Domain

Beasley v. U.S., 17-CF-1398 (decided November 21, 2019)

  • Holding 1: Following defense counsel’s Batson challenge, the trial court erred in finding no prima facie case of discrimination, where the government “used 80% of its peremptory strikes against black jurors, a group that comprised approximately 33% of the venire.” Slip. Op. at 8. A statistical disparity of this magnitude was sufficient to create prima facie case, notwithstanding the lack of evidence regarding the racial makeup of the seated jury and the fact that the defense also struck some of the black jurors included in its prima facie case. Although the court has “taken note in some cases when certain classes of people have been totally excluded from a jury through the government’s use of strikes,” it has “never signaled that this factor was” either necessary or sufficient. Id. at 9. Given that the reasons underlying the parties’ overlapping strikes are “not readily apparent, the overlap [is] not a valid basis for subtracting . . . jurors from the step-one analysis of the government’s strikes.” Id. at 10-11.
  • Holding 2: As in Haney v. United States, 206 A.3d 854 (D.C. 2019), the trial court’s erroneous finding that the defense failed to establish a prima facie case requires reversal because resuming the Batson inquiry on remand, after more than two years have passed, is not feasible. The government made “no contemporaneous proffers regarding its strikes of any jurors,” and as the government has conceded, the record provides no “obvious justification” for at least three of the relevant strikes. Id. at 13-14.

Read the full opinion here.

A copy of this opinion has been added to the Jury Selection section of The (Early) Year In Review (Part 2).