The following pending petitions involve issues of interest to capital habeas litigators:
A Black prospective juror on the strike panel in Lisa Jo Chamberlin’s death penalty case was seven times more likely to be stricken than a white prospective juror. When challenged under Batson, the prosecutor identified as his only reasons for striking two Black prospective jurors their answers to three questions pertaining to the death penalty on a written juror questionnaire. No comparative juror analysis was conducted by the trial court. On state post-conviction review and in federal habeas proceedings, Chamberlin demonstrated that a white prospective juror gave identical answers but was affirmatively accepted by the prosecutor. The Mississippi Attorney General argued that the white prospective juror gave a different response on the questionnaire that was more favorable to the State than the stricken Black panelists’ responses to that question, even though the prosecutor made no reference to that question at trial.
The federal district court granted relief, and a panel of the Fifth Circuit affirmed, explaining that this Court’s precedent requires the State to stand or fall on the plausibility of the reasons proffered by the trial prosecutor. On en banc review, the Fifth Circuit reversed, discounting the comparative juror analysis presented by Chamberlin based on the post-hoc reasoning of an attorney who did not try the case. This case thus presents the following questions for review:
(1) Whether a court reviewing a Batson claim may consider reasons distinguishing stricken jurors from those accepted by the prosecutor when the distinguishing factor was not cited in the trial court as a basis for the prosecutor’s decision? (2) Whether the evidence in the state court record, including the prosecutor’s starkly disparate strike pattern, failure to conduct individual voir dire, and the comparative juror analysis showing the implausibility of the prosecutor’s proffered reasons for striking two Black panelists, supported the federal district court’s grant of habeas relief.
Click here to view the certiorari petition. The case has been distributed for the January 18, 2019 conference.