9th Circuit Finds Bias in Jury Selection

     PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Prosecutors in a murder trial discriminated against Hispanics when selecting jurors, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday, overturning the conviction of man who was charged with the second-degree murder of a young boy.
     The 9th Circuit panel reversed U.S. District Judge James Selma, who had denied Anthony Castellanos habeas corpus application.
     Castellanos, of Bell Gardens, was convicted murdering a 12-year-old boy whom Castellanos had tried to recruit for his gang.
     According to court records, Castellanos, then 17, was in the kitchen of his apartment making French fries, while the boy Nicky and his 11-year-old brother, Joey, waited in the living room. Castellanos entered the living room, where Nicky was sitting on the couch, took out his gun and cocked the hammer.
     “What do you think about this,” Castellanos said. Then he allegedly shot Nicky in the head.
     Authorities charged Castellanos in Los Angeles Superior Court with murder, assault and street gang solicitation. The case went to trial after Castellanos pleaded not guilty.
     In March 2005 before trial, a prosecutor struck several Hispanic members from the jury pool. Castellanos’ attorney objected, claiming that prosecutors were trying to gain an advantage by striking Hispanics. In response, the prosecutor explained his reasons for striking three potential jurors from the pool.
     The opinion does not identify the prosecutor by name.
     Castellanos said prosecution had discriminated against three potential jurors. In its opinion, the 9th Circuit considered only one of them, a Latina identified in court records as “venireperson 4968.”
     The prosecutor had told the judge that he “thought the person was white, but regardless, the person, she didn’t have any children.”
     “The victim in here is going to be a child testifying, so I want jurors to understand children, so I’ve kicked a lot of jurors who don’t have children,” the prosecutor said.
     But in a 25-page opinion, Judge Mary Murguia said the prosecutor’s explanation for cutting the woman masked bias against Hispanics.
     The record showed that the prosecutor’s stated reason for striking the woman was proved wrong, Judge Murguia said, because the woman had told him she had two adult children.
     Murguia also found the question to the woman – “Do you have any adult children?” – “rather odd.”
     “If the prosecutor’s purpose truly was to determine which venirepersons could ‘understand children,’ a broader initial question – for example, ‘Do you have any children?’ – would have better served that purpose,” the judge wrote.
     Though the court considered a finding of prosecutorial discrimination in the case of only one juror, it said in a footnote that analysis of at least one other “would compel the same conclusion.”
     Judge Stephen Reinhardt and Judge John Noonan joined the court’s unanimous decision.

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