Tuesday, August 3, 2010

State v. Bateman[1]

Opinion handed down August 3, 2010
Link to Mo. Sup. Ct. Opinion

The Supreme Court of Missouri held that there was sufficient evidence to support a finding of deliberation when a defendant had adequate opportunity to terminate the confrontation, previously threatened the deceased, and brought a deadly weapon to the scene of the crime. Additionally, the court held that the trial court did not err in denying the defense’s Batson challenge when it found that the prosecutor’s strike of an African-American juror during voir dire was not racially motivated.

I. Facts and Holding

The State of Missouri charged defendant Tyrone C. Bateman, an African-American male, with first degree murder of his cousin, Miles Bateman, and armed criminal action based on an incident that occurred on March 21, 2005.[2] A few days before the incident in question, Miles had slept over at Tyrone’s house after a night out together.[3] Miles awoke the next morning to find that Tyrone had borrowed his van and some money; Tyrone returned the van without gas, but did not return the money.[4] Consequently, Miles kept a pair of shoes that Tyrone had left in the van until he was able to collect the money that Tyrone had borrowed.[5]

On March 21, 2005, Tyrone came to Miles’ house looking for his shoes.[6] When Miles refused to give back the shoes until Tyrone returned the missing money, the argument turned physical.[7] The two wrestled on the ground until Miles’ mother broke up the fight.[8] Tyrone said to Miles, “‘ . . . [W]hen you get off me, I’m going to hurt you real bad.’”[9] Tyrone returned to his car and drove in reverse down a one way-street to get to his house.[10] He retrieved a shotgun from inside his house and returned to Miles’ house.[11] When he arrived, Tyrone kicked down the front door, shot Miles in the chest, and “drove away exclaiming, ‘I got him. I got him.’”[12] Miles died as a result of his injuries.[13]

The police subsequently searched Tyrone’s house and found a shotgun and shell that matched the gun that had been used to shoot Miles.[14] Tyrone was later apprehended by the police when he was found hiding in an apartment in the closet of a child’s bedroom.[15] Tyrone aggressively resisted arrest and had to be subdued with a Taser.[16]

At trial, Tyrone was convicted of first degree murder and armed criminal action and sentenced to life in prison without parole for first degree murder and a consecutive term of ten years for armed criminal action.[17] He appealed on two grounds, arguing that (1) the evidence was insufficient to allow a jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Tyrone deliberated before he shot Miles and (2) the trial court erred in overruling his Batson challenge to the state’s peremptory strike of an African-American venire-person.[18]

Tyrone’s second point on appeal relates to what happened on the second day of voir dire.[19] The prosecutor asked the venire-persons whether they had any thoughts about the previous day’s questions.[20] B.B., a Caucasian venire-person, asked why, if the jury were to determine that there was guilt in the case, they would not be allowed to consider all possible punishment, including the death penalty.[21] Later, the prosecutor inquired of the venire-persons as to whether they could follow the court’s instructions even if they disagreed about what the law is or should be.[22] The prosecutor then specifically addressed B.T., an African-American venire member, with his question.[23] B.T. responded in the affirmative but then inquired about what the prosecutor meant by first degree and second degree and whether there was a harsher sentence based on the different degrees.[24] The prosecutor answered and then asked B.T. again whether he could follow the court’s instructions even if they differed from his personal beliefs, and B.T. responded in the affirmative.[25]

B.T. was not initially included in the prosecutor’s peremptory strikes; however, after a Batson challenge was upheld against one of the prosecutor’s initial strikes, he chose to strike B.T.[26] The defense made a Batson challenge, and the prosecutor explained that he struck B.T. because he showed signs that he might have a more lenient demeanor in the matter at hand or in criminal matters in general.[27] Defense counsel pointed out that venire-person B.B. was similarly situated to B.T. in that he showed initiative by asking why the jury could not consider capital punishment in the case, but yet was not struck by the prosecution.[28] The court denied the Batson challenge and found that the prosecutor’s strike of B.T. was race-neutral.[29]

Upon transfer to the Supreme Court of Missouri, both of Tyrone’s points on appeal were denied and his convictions and sentences were affirmed.[30] The court held that a finding of deliberation by the jury will not be disturbed when there is ample evidence indicating that deliberation occurred.[31] The court also held that the trial court did not err in denying the defense’s Batson challenge as to venire-person B.T. because the prosecutor came forward with “a reasonably specific and race-neutral reason for the strike” and the defense failed to show that the reasons the prosecutor offered were pretext.[32]

II. Legal Background

A. Evidence Sufficient to Support Deliberation

Missouri Revised Statute § 565.020.1 provides that “[a] person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if he knowingly causes the death of another person after deliberation upon the matter.”[33] Additionally, “deliberation is defined as ‘cool reflection for any length of time no matter how brief ….’”[34] Furthermore, proof of deliberation must be established through the circumstances surrounding the murder.[35]

When analyzing whether there was sufficient proof of deliberation in the instant case, the Supreme Court of Missouri looked to a plethora of case law relating to what kinds of circumstances tend to point to deliberation.[36] For example, the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District, in State v. Norman, noted that evidence that a defendant had ample opportunity to terminate the crime is sufficient to support an inference of deliberation.[37] The court in the instant case also looked to State v. Overkamp, in which the Supreme Court of Missouri held that when a defendant makes previous threats to kill the deceased, these are admissible to prove deliberation.[38] Finally, the court looked to State v. Stacy, a Missouri Court of Appeals case in which the court noted that the fact that a defendant brought a deadly weapon to the scene of the crime supported a finding that the defendant deliberated prior to acting.[39]

Therefore, there are a wide variety of circumstances and factors that Missouri courts have held are sufficient to support a finding of deliberation. In the instant case, the Supreme Court of Missouri found that there was enough evidence to support the jury’s finding that the defendant deliberated before committing the murder based on several of the factors mentioned above.[40]

B. Batson Challenge

In 1986, the United States Supreme Court decided Batson v. Kentucky, which fundamentally changed how courts looked at challenges regarding racially motivated peremptory strikes.[41] Batson involved an African-American man that was indicted for second degree burglary and receipt of stolen goods in Kentucky.[42] During voir dire, the prosecutor exercised his peremptory challenges to strike all of the African-American venire members from the jury, resulting in an all white jury.[43] Subsequently, the defendant’s attorney moved to discharge the jury, stating that the prosecutor’s striking of all the African-American venire members violated the defendant’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a “jury drawn from a cross section of the community.”[44] However, the trial judge denied the motion, finding that “the parties were entitled to use their peremptory challenges to ‘strike anybody they want to.’”[45]

In State v. Parker, the United States Supreme Court established the procedure for a Batson challenge.[46] First, a defendant must show that he is a member of a cognizable racial group and that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to strike venire members of defendant’s racial group.[47] Second, after the defendant makes a prima facie showing of discrimination, the burden then shifts to the prosecutor to give a racially neutral explanation of the strike or strikes in question.[48] Finally, the defendant must then show that the prosecutor’s explanations are pretextual and that in fact the prosecutor’s strikes were racially motivated.[49]

Several years after Batson, the Court established, in Powers v. Ohio, that while criminal defendants clearly have standing to assert the violation of their own rights regarding racially motivated peremptory strikes, they also have standing to assert the violation of the equal protection rights of excluded venire members.[50]

A showing of the fact that similarly situated venire-persons were treated differently is one of the most common ways that defendants establish that the prosecutor’s racially neutral reasons are actually pretextual.[51] However, this kind of showing is not required in order for a defendant to make a successful Batson challenge.[52] For example, in State v. McFadden (McFadden II), the Supreme Court of Missouri held that the prosecutor’s explanation that an African-American venire member had “crazy-looking red hair” was pretextual even though there was not a similarly situated venire-person that was treated differently.[53]

Other factors that the courts have looked to when determining whether the prosecutor’s proffered reasons were pretext are “[t]he degree of logical relevance between the proffered explanation and the case to be tried in terms of the kind of crime charged, the nature of the evidence to be adduced and the potential punishment if the defendant is convicted . . . .”[54]; the prosecutor’s past patterns of practice regarding his or her use of peremptory challenges and his or her proffered reasons for them[55]; the demeanor of the prosecutor while engaging with members of the jury pool;[56] and the demeanor of the venire members that are struck by the prosecutor.[57]

Therefore, when examining whether a prosecutor’s proffered explanations for his or her peremptory challenges are pretextual or not, courts will look at a variety of factors beyond whether or not a similarly situated venire-person was treated differently. In the instant case, the Supreme Court of Missouri held that while the presence of a similarly situated venire-person was not necessary for a successful Batson challenge, none of the other factors that tend to point to pretext were present, and thus the defendant failed to meet his burden.[58]

III. Comment

The Supreme Court of Missouri’s holding in State v. Bateman exemplifies the notion that while courts in the United States have come a long way in terms of working to minimize racial bias during jury selection, there are still times when courts get it wrong and a racially motivated peremptory strike is permitted to stand. Judge Richard B. Teitelman filed a very persuasive separate dissenting opinion in the instant case and pointed to several factors the majority ignored in reaching its holding regarding the Batson challenge.[59]

First, the prosecutor’s reason for striking B.T. was that B.T. took the initiative to ask about the differing degrees of murder, which the prosecutor claimed indicated that B.T. had a tendency toward leniency on matters involving crime and punishment.[60] However, B.T. only asked the question after the prosecutor directly asked him a question.[61] Thus, the prosecutor’s contention that B.T. took initiative is simply false and seems to point to an after-the-fact justification rather than a legitimate race neutral explanation.[62]

Secondly, the prosecutor only struck B.T. from the venire panel after he had attempted to strike another African-American juror and the court sustained the defendant’s Batson challenge as to that venire-person.[63] This fact alone speaks to the fact that the prosecutor had a practice of racially motivated peremptory strikes in the very same trial which discredits the reason that he proffered for his striking of B.T. Therefore, when the only reason the prosecutor provides is based on an inaccurate factual basis and he has a history of racially motivated strikes during that same voir dire, the court has an obligation to uphold the defendant’s Batson challenge.

The court’s holding in Bateman is an all too vivid reminder that racial bias still exists in jury selection today. It is important that in close cases, like the instant one, courts thoroughly consider all of the facts and err on the side of caution with regards to Batson challenges in order to ensure that courts continue to progress forward in the struggle to eliminate such racial bias.

-Lindsay A. Ponce

[1] No. NC90528, 2010 WL 3279766 (Mo. 2010) (en banc).
[2] Id. at *4.
[3] Id. at *2.
[4] Id.
[5] Id.
[6] Id.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.
[12] Id.
[13] Id.
[14] Id.
[15] Id.
[16] Id.
[17] Id. at *4.
[18] Id. at *1.
[19] Id. at *2.
[20] Id. at *2-3.
[21] Id. at *3.
[22] Id.
[23] Id.
[24] Id.
[25] Id.
[26] Id.
[27] Id. at *3-4.
[28] Id. at *4.
[29] Id.
[30] Id. at *11.
[31] Id. at *6.
[32] Id. at *9.
[33] Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.020.1 (West 2010).
[34] Bateman, 2010 WL 3279766 at *5 (quoting Mo. Rev. Stat. § 565.020(3) (West 2010)).
[35] Id. (citing State v. O’Brien, 857 S.W.2d 212, 218-19 (Mo. 1993) (en banc)).
[36] Id. at *5-6.
[37] Id at *5 (citing State v. Norman, 243 S.W.3d 466, 470 (Mo. App. S.D. 2007)).
[38] Id. (citing State v. Norman, 646 S.W.2d 733, 737 (Mo. 1983)).
[39] Id. at *6 (citing State v. Stacy, 913 S.W.2d 384, 387 (Mo. App. W.D. 1996) (defendant brought a knife along to aid in a robbery that resulted in stabbing the victim fourteen times)).
[40] Id.
[41] 476 U.S. 79 (1986).
[42] Id. at 82.
[43] Id. at 83.
[44] Id.
[45] Id.
[46] Bateman, 2010 WL 3279766 at *7 (citing State v. Parker, 836 S.W.2d 930, 939 (Mo. 1992) (en banc)).
[47] Id.
[48] Id.
[49] Id.
[50] Id. (citing Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 409-11 (1991)).
[51] Id. (citing State v. McFadden, 191 S.W.3d 648, 651 (Mo. 2006) (en banc)).
[52] Id. (citing State v. McFadden, 216 S.W.3d 673 (Mo. 2007) (en banc)).
[53] McFadden, 216 S.W.3d at 676.
[54] Id. at *8 (quoting State v. Parker, 836 S.W.2d 930, 940 (Mo. 1992) (en banc)).
[55] Id.
[56] Id. (citing State v. Antwine, 743 S.W.2d 51, 65 (Mo. 1987) (en banc)).
[57] Id. (citing Parker, 836 S.W.2d at 940).
[58] Id. at *10-11.
[59] Id. at *11-12 (Teitelman, J., dissenting).
[60] Id. at *11.
[61] Id.
[62] Id.
[63] Id.