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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Striking Black Jurors Didn’t Taint Conviction

(CN) - A man serving 25 years to life for receiving stolen property failed to prove that racism kept four black citizens off his jury, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.

Late one night in the summer of 1999, California Highway Patrol officers found Keith Jamerson on a freeway exit ramp, sitting in the driver's seat of a stolen truck with a shattered passenger window and busted-up ignition and steering column.

A Los Angeles jury could not agree if Jamerson had stolen the truck but found him guilty of receiving stolen property. With two prior convictions, he received a stiff sentence under California's Three Strikes Law.

Jamerson has been pursuing habeas relief since 2002, arguing that prosecutors excused several prospective jurors just because they were black. After exhausting his options in state court, Jamerson won a brief victory when U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Nguyen granted his habeas petition. The federal judge agreed with a magistrate's comparative analysis of the jury selection in the case, which declined to credit the prosecutor's stated reasons for striking four prospective black jurors.

Califofnia appealed the issue to the 9th Circuit, which unanimously reversed Wednesday after doing its own comparative analysis.

The prosecutor had excused 10 of the 12 black prospective jurors in a pool of 43, according to the ruling. One of the disputed prospective jurors was dismissed because he had hepatitis and the prosecutor worried that he would identify with the defendant, who had a leg injury for which he used a cane. The prosecutor dismissed another black prospective juror because she worked for the U.S. Postal Service, an agency whose workers had proved troublesome for the lawyer as jurors in past cases.

While admitting that "some of the prosecutor's justifications appear thin at first glance," Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain wrote that "a more searching review reveals nothing in the record suggesting that the state court unreasonably found these reasons to be genuine and not pretextual."

Ultimately, the only pattern identified in the prosecutor's peremptory challenges was a bias against "jurors ... who had a close relative in prison for a crime and who had a prior experience with a violent personal crime that remained unresolved," he wrote.

The final jury panel included "one Asian juror, two black jurors, five Hispanic jurors, and four white jurors," according to the ruling.

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