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People v. Rodriguez

Supreme Court of Colorado, En Banc

June 29, 2015

The People of the State of Colorado, Petitioner:
v.
Romielo Rodriguez, Respondent:

Page 424

Certiorari to the Colorado Court of Appeals. Court of Appeals Case No. 09CA2404.

Judgment Reversed.

SYLLABUS

The supreme court holds that when a trial court conducts an inadequate inquiry into an equal protection challenge to the exercise of a peremptory strike, the proper remedy is to remand the case so that the trial court may conduct the three-part analysis announced in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), as it is described in this opinion. An inquiry is inadequate when the trial court's findings are insufficient to determine whether the challenger has proved that the proponent of the peremptory strike purposefully discriminated against a prospective juror on account of the prospective juror's race. In this case, the trial court applied an incorrect legal standard and overruled the defendant's Batson challenge for failure to demonstrate a pattern of discrimination. In so doing, the court never decided whether the defendant established that the prosecutor engaged in purposeful discrimination by striking two minority veniremembers. Accordingly, the supreme court orders the case returned to the trial court with directions to conduct the three-part Batson analysis described in this opinion.

For Petitioner: Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General, Joseph G. Michaels, Assistant Attorney General, Carmen Moraleda, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, Colorado.

For Respondent: Douglas K. Wilson, Public Defender, Dayna Vise, Deputy Public Defender, Denver, Colorado.

OPINION

Page 425

BOATRIGHT, JUSTICE

[¶1] In this appeal, we consider how both trial and appellate courts should determine whether a party has used a peremptory challenge to purposefully discriminate against a prospective juror on account of her race, in

Page 426

violation of the U.S. Supreme Court's rule in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). The trial court in this case denied two Batson challenges raised by the petitioner, Romielo Rodriguez, for lack of a pattern of strikes against members of a cognizable racial group. The court of appeals reversed Rodriguez's convictions and ordered a new trial because it held that the trial court clearly erred by denying Rodriguez's Batson challenges for failure to show a pattern of discrimination. People v. Rodriguez, No. 09CA2404, slip op. at 16, 18 (Colo. App. Dec. 6, 2012). Although a pattern of strikes " might give rise to an inference of discrimination," Batson, 476 U.S. at 97, it is not a prerequisite to a successful Batson challenge, United States v. Vasquez-Lopez, 22 F.3d 900, 902 (9th Cir. 1994).

[¶2] We granted the People's petition for certiorari to review the court of appeals' decision to reverse Rodriguez's convictions and order a new trial. We now reverse the court of appeals' judgment. We hold that the proper remedy for an inadequate inquiry into a Batson challenge at the time of jury selection is to remand the case to the trial court with directions to conduct the three-part Batson analysis and make the required factual findings. An inadequate Batson inquiry occurs when the trial court's findings are insufficient to determine whether the opponent of the peremptory strike has proved that the proponent used the strike to purposefully discriminate against prospective jurors on account of their race.[1] In this case, the trial court mistakenly believed that a successful Batson claim requires a pattern of racially motivated strikes; consequently, it did not complete an adequate Batson analysis with respect to either of the ...


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