Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Restrictive Habeas Standards Doom Batson Challenge

Washington v. Roberts, 2017 WL 74687 (1/9/17) (Kan.) - In a 28 USC ยง 2254 state habeas case, the 10th affirms a district court decision denying relief where at Mr. Washington's murder trial, the state exercised ten of twelve peremptory challenges against African American prospective jurors and provided weak explanations for the strikes. While the Tenth says it would likely have reversed had the case come before it on direct appeal, it decides the test applied by the Kansas Supreme Court was not contrary to clearly established US Supreme Court precedent at the time. That test prohibited only peremptory strikes that were found to be based solely on race. The prosecutor came up with multiple explanations, some of which seemed race-neutral, and that was good enough under the law as it stood in 2003. Mr. Washington also claimed that the Kansas courts misapplied even that standard and never reached the third Batson step of evaluating the facially race-neutral reasons and determining whether purposeful discrimination had occurred. But state court decisions must be given the benefit of the doubt and there is a presumption that state courts know and follow the law. And reviewing courts must defer to trial court findings on discriminatory intent because they largely turn on credibility.

The Court gives little attention to Mr. Washington's remaining claims. There was ample evidence that he was not in custody before he received Miranda warnings. Even if counsel was ineffective in failing to call Mr. Washington to testify in support of his Miranda claim, there was no showing of prejudice. And the prosecutor's improper argument that Mr. Washington did not have a license to kill because of his PTSD, which was the basis of his defense, was cured by the trial court's admonition to the jury.