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Belief criminal justice system treats African Americans unfairly not grounds for juror exclusion

People v. Henderson (Cal. Ct. App., May 11, 2022, No. C088883) 2022 WL 1485820, at *1

Summary: Henderson was convicted of one count of second degree murder (Pen. Code, § 187)1 and one count of attempted murder (§§ 664/187) and found true enhancement allegations that defendant personally discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury or death (§ 12022.53, subd. (d)) as to each count. The trial court sentenced defendant to serve an aggregate determinate term of seven years plus an aggregate indeterminate prison term of 65 years to life.
On appeal, Henderson contends: (1) the trial court prejudicially abused its discretion and violated his federal constitutional right to a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community by excusing two African-American prospective jurors for cause based on their stated belief that the criminal justice system treats African-Americans unfairly and because they were sympathetic towards him.
The Courmof Appeal held that a trial court may not excuse for cause African-American prospective jurors solely because of their belief that the criminal justice system treats African-Americans unfairly, but here the two African-American prospective jurors here were not excused for that reason. They were excused because the trial court concluded that, based on the voir dire evidence, they could not be impartial because of their bias and sympathy for defendant. The court’s ruling was not an abuse of discretion and Henderson’s constitutional right to a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community was not violated.

Challenges for Cause and Standard of Review
A prospective juror may be excused for cause based on actual bias. (Code Civ. Proc. § 225, subd. (b)(1).) Actual bias includes: “the existence of a state of mind on the part of the juror in reference to the case, or to any of the parties, which will prevent the juror from acting with entire impartiality, and without prejudice to the substantial rights of any party.” (Code Civ. Proc. § 225, subd. (b)(1)(C),; People v. Horning (2004) 34 Cal.4th 871, 898, 22 Cal.Rptr.3d 305, 102 P.3d 228.)

“ ‘[W]hat constitutes “actual bias” of a juror varies according to the circumstances of the case.’ ” (In re Manriquez (2018) 5 Cal.5th 785, 799, 235 Cal.Rptr.3d 787, 421 P.3d 1086, quoting People v. Nesler (1997) 16 Cal.4th 561, 580, 66 Cal.Rptr.2d 454, 941 P.2d 87 (Nesler).) In the context of the selection of jurors in death penalty cases, a well-settled constitutional standard has evolved, which seems equally applicable in non-capital cases: a juror may be constitutionally excused for cause if the juror’s views would “ ‘prevent or substantially impair’ the performance of the juror’s duties as defined by the court’s instructions and the juror’s oath.” (People v. Armstrong (2019) 6 Cal.5th 735, 750, 243 Cal.Rptr.3d 105, 433 P.3d 987 (Armstrong), citing Wainwright v. Witt (1985) 469 U.S. 412, 105 S.Ct. 844, [83 L.Ed.2d 841]

Assessing juror qualifications falls within the trial court’s broad discretion, and on appeal, reviewing courts “ ‘will uphold the trial court’s decision if it is fairly supported by the record, and accept as binding the trial court’s determination as to the prospective juror’s true state of mind when the prospective juror has given conflicting or ambiguous statements.’ ” (People v. Ledesma (2006) 39 Cal.4th 641, 669, 47 Cal.Rptr.3d 326, 140 P.3d 657.)

Henderson’s Constitutional Challenge
“[T]he right to trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community is guaranteed equally and independently by the Sixth Amendment to the federal Constitution and by article I, section 16, of the California Constitution.” (People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, 272, 148 Cal.Rptr. 890, 583 P.2d 748 (Wheeler) [unconstitutional use of peremptory challenges], reversed on other grounds, Johnson v. California (2005) 545 U.S. 162, 125 S.Ct. 2410, [162 L.Ed.2d 129]
Prospective jurors shall be selected by court officials without systematic and intentional exclusion of any economic, social, religious, racial, political and geographical groups. (Thiel v. Southern Pac. Co. (1946) 328 U.S. 217, 220, 66 S.Ct. 984, [90 L.Ed. 1181] (Thiel).) Henderson cites Thiel in making the claim that the trial court’s “procedure … rendered [defendant’s] jury non-representative by systematically excluding a cognizable class from jury service.”

Standing alone, the belief that the criminal-justice system is systemically unfair to blacks is not a basis to disqualify a juror. A juror may be constitutionally excused for cause. The record here supports a finding that Prospective Jurors No. 1 and No. 9 were substantially impaired by their bias and sympathy.Giving the deference to the trial court our, the court of appeal concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excusing them, and defendant’s constitutional right to a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community was not violated.

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