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State v. Gonzalez-Sandoval

Supreme Court of Kansas

December 21, 2018

State of Kansas, Appellee,
v.
Jose Alberto Gonzalez-Sandoval, Appellant.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution applies to the State's privilege to strike prospective jurors through peremptory challenges. An appellate court uses a three-step analysis established in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), when considering a challenge that the State exercised its peremptory strikes based on purposeful racial discrimination.

         2. The party who alleges discriminatory selection of the jury has the burden to prove the existence of purposeful discrimination.

         3. A defendant alleging discriminatory selection of the jury must make out a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination under the first step prescribed by Batson. The party may establish the prima facie case by showing that the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose. On appeal, we exercise unlimited review over a trial court's rulings relating to this first Batson step.

         4. Under the second step of the analysis required by Batson, once a party has established a prima facie case of discriminatory intent, the burden of production shifts to the party making the peremptory strike to come forward with a neutral, nondiscriminatory reason for exercising a peremptory strike. While the burden of production switches, the burden of persuasion rests with, and never shifts from, the opponent of the strike.

         5. The explanation required in Batson's second step must be reasonably specific but need not be based solely on the prospective juror's answers. And while the justification for exercising the peremptory strike must be facially valid, it need not necessarily be plausible or persuasive. If a prosecutor explains a reason for striking a juror that does not relate to the characteristics of any particular race, the reason is race-neutral.

         6. The State's honest but mistaken belief about a facially valid race-neutral reason for striking a minority venire member does not presumptively amount to purposeful discrimination for purposes of Batson.

         7. Under the third step of the Batson analysis, once the party making the peremptory strike offers a race-neutral explanation, the party claiming discriminatory conduct bears the burden of showing pretext. The trial judge must then assess the plausibility of the proffered reason for the strike based on all the evidence. When reviewing this factual determination, appellate courts accord great deference to the trial court. On appeal, we review the decision under an abuse of discretion standard-that is, to determine if the trial court made an error of law; made an error of fact; or was otherwise arbitrary, fanciful, or unreasonable.

         Review of the judgment of the Court of Appeals in 53 Kan.App.2d 536, 390 P.3d 84 (2017).

          Appeal from Lyon District Court; MERLIN G. WHEELER, judge.

          Christopher S. O'Hara, of O'Hara & O'Hara LLC, of Wichita, argued the cause and was on the brief for appellant.

          Kristafer R. Ailslieger, deputy solicitor general, argued the cause, and Laura L. Miser, assistant county attorney, Marc Goodman, county attorney, and Derek Schmidt, attorney general, were with him on the briefs for appellee.

          OPINION

          Luckert, J.

         A jury convicted Jose Alberto Gonzalez-Sandoval of aggravated indecent liberties with a child. He appealed to the Court of Appeals, raising four issues. A majority of the Court of Appeals panel found one argument meritorious. It held the trial court abused its discretion in not granting Gonzalez-Sandoval a new trial because of the State's exercise of a peremptory strike that removed an individual with a Spanish surname from the jury panel. See State v. Gonzalez-Sandoval, 53 Kan.App.2d 536, 561-65, 390 P.3d 84 (2017).

         Generally, each party may use peremptory strikes-also called peremptory challenges-to reject a certain number of potential jurors without stating a reason. But if another party objects to the peremptory strike under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), the district court must follow a specified procedure and allow the peremptory strike only after determining purposeful discrimination did not motivate the strike.

         Gonzalez-Sandoval objected to the State using a peremptory strike to remove an individual with a Spanish surname from the pool of potential jurors. The State responded, in part, by stating the prospective juror had not been candid when asked during the jury selection process about having been a witness or having been interviewed by law enforcement. The district court determined the State had a race-neutral reason for striking the potential juror. Later, the State's prosecutors advised the district court the juror had not been a witness or been involved in the investigation they mentioned. They explained how they had made the mistake, and the district court found that the prosecutors had honestly believed the reasons they gave for exercising the peremptory strike. Because one of the State's reasons was race-neutral, the district court denied Gonzalez-Sandoval's renewed objection. And after the verdict, the district court denied Gonzalez-Sandoval's request for a new trial in which he alleged the State had discriminated during jury selection.

         On appeal, a majority of the Court of Appeals panel determined the circumstances showed the peremptory strike was not race-neutral. The majority thus concluded the district court should have granted Gonzalez-Sandoval a new trial. See Gonzalez-Sandoval, 53 Kan.App.2d at 559-71.

         The State timely sought this court's review. Gonzalez-Sandoval did not cross-petition to ask for our review of the Court of Appeals' adverse rulings on his remaining issues. Thus, the only issue before us is whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying Gonzalez-Sandoval's Batson objection. Gonzalez-Sandoval does not ask us to go outside the Batson framework.

         We reverse the Court of Appeals and affirm the trial court. The outcome of this appeal hinges on the trial court's findings that (1) the State honestly believed the factual basis it first offered as the reason for its strike and (2) the reason was not a pretext. These findings relate to questions of credibility, which this court does not reweigh. The Court of Appeals suggested reasons, which, if established, might suggest pretext. But Gonzalez-Sandoval did not make those arguments and has not met his burden of establishing the State exercised its peremptory strikes based on purposeful racial discrimination. Thus, he has failed to establish that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion for new trial.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The underlying facts of this case were fully set forth in the Court of Appeals opinion. See Gonzalez-Sandoval, 53 Kan.App.2d at 537-54. For purposes of this court's review, the relevant facts relate only to ...


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