STATE v. MICHAEL ANTHONY EDWARDS, SC 19049
Judicial District of New London/Norwich
Criminal; Whether the Court Properly Rejected the Defendant’s Batson Objection to the State’s Use of a Peremptory Challenge to Exclude a Venireperson who Indicated her Race as “Human.” The defendant was found guilty of assault of a correction officer and he moved for a new trial, claiming the trial court denied him a fair trial in allowing the state to use a peremptory challenge to exclude a minority venireperson. The defendant, who is African-American, had unsuccessfully objected to the state’s use of the peremptory challenge pursuant to Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Batson held that prosecutors cannot challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race. The prosecutor’s response to the Batson claim was that the prospective juror, who appeared to be African-American, wrote “human” on the line on the juror questionnaire form where she could indicate her race. He stated that he found this answer to be odd and that he did not think that someone who would give such an answer would necessarily be appropriate to serve as a juror. In denying the defendant’s motion for a new trial, the court found that the prospective juror’s response to the race question was somewhat unusual and that there was no pattern on the part of the state of excluding all prospective jurors of the same race. It then concluded that the defendant did not satisfy his burden of establishing that the state’s use of the peremptory challenge was tainted by purposeful racial discrimination, and it sentenced the defendant in accordance with the jury’s verdict. In this appeal, the defendant argues that the state’s use of a peremptory challenge to exclude an otherwise qualified juror on the basis of her answer to the race question on the juror questionnaire form deprived him of his right to equal protection of the law. He claims that the trial court improperly found that the state had a race-neutral, nondiscriminatory reason for the peremptory challenge and failed to recognize that mixed-race persons sometimes choose not to identify themselves by standard racial categories. The defendant asks the Supreme Court to exercise its supervisory authority over the administration of justice and disallow the use of racial self-identification in juror questionnaires as a ground for a peremptory challenge. Finally, he claims that clarification is needed as to the proper standard for appellate review of Batson claims.