Comm. v. Edwards, 2018 PA Super 9 (Jan. 19, 2018)

This was an appeal out of Philadelphia County addressing a Batson challenge.  (The term Batson challenge comes from the U.S. Supreme Court case of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), which held that “a prosecutor’s challenge to potential jurors solely on the basis of race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.”  A Batson challenge arises when the defense makes an argument that the prosecutor removed a potential juror on account of their race.)

Briefly, in this case, the particular trial court in question had a practice of “listing the races and genders of prospective jurors on a peremptory strike sheet.” “During the peremptory strike process, 30 potential jurors were considered by the parties.  Of those 30, 13 were African-American.  The Commonwealth used seven of its eight peremptory strikes on African-Americans.  An additional 14 jurors were Caucasian.  The Commonwealth did not strike any of the Caucasian potential jurors.”

The Superior Court noted,

Although the Commonwealth could not completely purge the jury in this case of African-Americans because of the number of African-American members of the venire, the Commonwealth greatly reduced the number of African-Americans on the jury in this case by exercising all of its peremptory strikes and using seven of those eight strikes on African-Americans.

Regarding one of the jurors that the defense challenged as being struck for racial reasons, the Superior Court found the Commonwealth’s “race-neutral explanation” for the strike to be inadequate.  The Commonwealth had argued that they struck this particular juror “because she did not seemed pleased to be called to jury duty.”  In response, the Superior Court noted,

[T]his same rationale could be used to strike almost every potential juror in almost every case tried throughout Pennsylvania.  Few (if any) citizens are thrilled when they receive a jury summons in the mail.  Instead, they begrudgingly arrive at the courthouse to fulfill their civic duty (or avoid being arrested).

Overall, the Superior Court found that the Commonwealth had struck one of the potential jurors for a “racially motivated” reason, thus violating Batson, and it vacated Edward’s convictions though it found the evidence sufficient to convict.  Accordingly, the case was remanded for a new trial.

The Superior Court would not hold that “listing the races and genders of prospective jurors on a peremptory strike sheet” was a per se violation of the Equal Protection Claus; however, the Court did call the practice “ill-advised and inappropriate.”