Court Takes Up Issue Of Excluding Whites From Juries

In this criminal case (People vs Singh) the court addressed the issue of whether excusing white people during jury selection was improper.  During jury voir dire, the prosecutor made a motion to prevent exclusion of white jurors, observing that the defense had exercised eight peremptory challenges against Caucasian jurors. The court granted the prosecutor’s motion, reseated the last excused juror, offered defense counsel three additional challenges (which it could exercise against the juror in question should he be able to articulate race-neutral reasons for the challenge), and threatened counsel with monetary sanctions in the event of any further impermissible challenges. At the beginning of the trial, counsel put on the record the fact that he would have excused two more jurors but for the concern that the court would not sustain the challenges.

On appeal, Singh disputed whether Caucasians were a cognizable group, and argued that the court should have abdicated efforts to gauge the sincerity of his race-neutral justifications for his peremptories. The appellate court concluded that it need not reach either of those issues, because, even if the trial court erred, Singh failed to establish any resulting prejudice. An error in overruling a peremptory challenge does not result in any fundamental unfairness or interference with the reliability of the jury’s function. A defendant must demonstrate either bias or other grounds for a challenge for cause on the part of the juror in order to establish prejudice for reversal. Here, there was no demonstration of the necessary prejudice, so it was not necessary to resolve whether the trial court’s actions were erroneous.  Thanks CCAP.

Matthew Ruff is a Long Beach Criminal Attorney focusing on serious charges in the local Court


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