This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

A03-1189

 

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Rondel Tyrone Best,

Appellant.

 

 

Filed August 31, 2004

Affirmed

Anderson, Judge

 

 Ramsey County District Court

File No. K9-02-4200

 

John Stuart, State Public Defender, Steven P. Russett, Assistant Public Defender, 2221 University Avenue SE, Suite 425, Minneapolis, MN  55414 (for appellant)

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, 1800 NCL Tower, 445 Minnesota Street, St. Paul, MN  55101; and

 

Susan Gaertner, Ramsey County Attorney, Jeanne L. Schleh, Assistant County Attorney, Suite 315, 50 West Kellogg Boulevard, St. Paul, MN  55102 (for respondent)

 

            Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Shumaker, Judge.

 


U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

 

G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge

 

            Appellant, Rondel Tyrone Best, was arrested for, charged with, and convicted of two counts of controlled-substance crime in the third-degree.  Minn. Stat. § 152.023, subs. 1(1) and 3(b) (2002).  The district court sentenced appellant to 27 months in prison.  Appellant challenges his conviction, arguing he is entitled to a new trial because the district court conducted a faulty and incomplete Batson analysis during voir dire.  We affirm.

FACTS

 

            This matter arises from appellant’s trial for third-degree violations of controlled-substance law.  During voir dire, the prosecution asked the potential jurors whether any panel member, family, or friend had experience with drugs or drug addiction.  Several potential jurors admitted that family members or friends previously had drug problems, and two jurors stated that family members had been incarcerated for committing drug-related crimes.

            One panel member, a Caucasian female, admitted that she had a brother who was incarcerated eight to ten years earlier for a drug-related conviction.  Another panel member, an African-American male, admitted that members of his family had previously been incarcerated for drug-related crimes and that a first cousin was currently incarcerated for a drug-related conviction.  After voir dire, the prosecution used peremptory challenges to strike both jurors who had family members that had been, or currently were, incarcerated for drug-related convictions.

            Outside the presence of the jury, defense counsel and the district court noted that the state had removed the only African-American on the jury.  The district court conducted a Batson analysis to determine whether the prosecution’s peremptory strike of the African-American juror was improper.  The district court began by asking appellant to establish that the strike was racially motivated.  Appellant argued that the strike was improper “by virtue of the fact that [the juror in question] was the only African-American available and he was the one who was removed through a peremptory challenge by the state.”  Appellant submitted, “That in and of itself constitutes a prima facie case.”

            The district court responded to appellant’s prima facieargument that it did not “know if [appellant] even reached a prima facielevel to get to the next step of the Batson.”  Nevertheless, the district court directed the prosecutor to state for the record the reasons why he had exercised the peremptory challenge.  The prosecutor set forth his reasons for striking the African-American juror:

Your Honor, while the form in front of you doesn’t indicate the order of the strikes, prior to striking [the African-American juror] I also struck [a Caucasian juror] . . . who said during voir dire that she has a brother who went to jail for selling drugs eight to ten years ago.  She was stricken by the state.

            [The African-American juror] went beyond that and said that he has drug users and people who have done drugs, including relatives who do drugs, and he has a first cousin who is currently in jail in California for selling drugs; it’s a federal case, and he indicated to me -- it was my understanding that case is ongoing.

            It’s the state’s position, Your Honor, that that is a race- neutral reason.  And in light of the state also striking [the Caucasian juror], who was the only other potential juror who talked about having relatives or friends who had suffered a consequences for using or dealing drugs, it’s my position, Your Honor, that that is a race-neutral reason.

            [The African-American juror] was stricken regardless of his color but because of his family connections and his knowledge of the possible bias regarding drug dealing.

 

            Thereafter, appellant reiterated that striking the only African-American on the panel was “inherently suspect.”  The district court concluded that the prosecution had “given a race-neutral reason and, in fact, based on the questioning, I don’t think it even reaches the prima facie level, so I’m not going to grant [appellant’s] Batson challenge.”

D E C I S I O N

 

Standard of Review

This court will not reverse a district court’s Batson challenge ruling unless the district court was clearly erroneous in determining “that the prosecutor did not engage in purposeful discrimination.”  State v. Johnson, 616 N.W.2d 720, 725 (Minn. 2000); State v. McDonough, 631 N.W.2d 373, 385 (Minn. 2001).  Such deference is paid to the district court because a Batson analysis requires an evaluation of the prosecutor’s credibility, as well as the facts.  Johnson, 616 N.W.2d at 725; State v. James, 520 N.W.2d 399, 403-04 (Minn. 1994).  Therefore, “[w]hether there is racial discrimination in the exercise of a peremptory challenge is a factual determination to be made by the district court, and that determination will not be reversed absent clear proof that the state’s reason for the challenge was pretextual.”  State v. Henderson, 620 N.W.2d 688, 703-04 (Minn. 2001).  The supreme court recently clarified this holding in State v. White:

[W]hether a peremptory challenge is a pretext for discrimination is for decision by the district court only when step three of the Batson process is reached.  At step one of the Batson process, the district court need only determine whether the objecting party has established a prima facie showing of discrimination.

 

__N.W.2d__, __, No. A03-502, slip op. at 10 (Minn. Aug. 6, 2004).[1]

Here, appellant argues that the district court’s Batson analysis (1) failed to address the first prong of the test, proceeding immediately to the second, and (2) concluded the analysis by reverting to the first prong of the test instead of continuing with the third prong.

The United States Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause prohibits parties from using peremptory challenges to strike a potential juror based on the juror’s race.  Johnson, 616 N.W.2d at 725 (citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 89, 106 S. Ct. 1712, 1719 (1986)).  In determining if a party engaged in purposeful discrimination when exercising a peremptory challenge, the district court determines whether a peremptory strike is improperly racially motivated by conducting a Batson analysis.  Batson, at 89, 106 S. Ct. at 1719.  The Batson analysis is comprised of a three-step process: (1) the defendant must make a prima facie case that the prosecution’s peremptory strike was racially motivated; (2) if the prima facie case is made, the prosecution bears the burden of articulating a race-neutral explanation for the strike; and (3) the district court determines if the defendant has proved purposeful discrimination by the prosecution.  Id. at 96-98, 106 S. Ct. at 1723-24.  The Minnesota supreme court recently held, “[I]t is important for the court to announce on the record its analysis of each of the three steps of the Batson analysis and, if it reaches step three, to state fully its factual findings, including any credibility determinations.”  State v. Reiners, 664 N.W.2d 826, 832 (Minn. 2003).

Here, the Batson analysis conducted by the district court never concluded whether appellant had met his burden on the first prong by making a prima facie case of discrimination based on race.  Instead, the district court conducted an analysis of the second prong of the test—whether the prosecution had race-neutral reasons for the strike.  When a district court proceeds “to the second step in the process, the issue whether the defendant established a prima facie case of the discriminatory use of a peremptory strike is moot.”  State v. Gaitan, 536 N.W.2d 11, 15 (Minn. 1995).  Therefore, we do not review the district court’s determination on whether a prima facie case was established.  Rather, we begin our analysis with the second prong, examining the prosecutor’s race-neutral reasons for the strike.  See id. (“Where, as here, the trial court proceeded to the second step in the process, the issue whether the defendant established a prima facie case of the discriminatory use of a peremptory strike is moot.”).

The prosecutor told the district court that he struck both the African-American juror and a Caucasian juror because the jurors had family members who were incarcerated for committing drug-related crimes.  A peremptory strike may be based on investigations or convictions of a prospective juror’s close family members.  State v. Martin, 614 N.W.2d 214, 222-23 (Minn. 2000) (stating a strike will be upheld if the prosecutor’s actions are based on the criminal history of a juror’s family member and are not racially motivated); State v. Stewart, 514 N.W.2d 559, 563-65 (Minn. 1994) (upholding the strike of a juror whose “brother was a drug user who may have been involved in activities similar to appellant’s.”); State v. Scott, 493 N.W.2d 546, 549 (Minn. 1992) (holding a strike was racially neutral when based on a juror’s recent involvement with law enforcement in connection with her husband’s threat to kill her stepson).  The prosecution’s stated reasons for the strike were, therefore, race-neutral.

To satisfy the third prong of the Batson analysis, the district court must determine whether the defendant proved purposeful discrimination.  Although appellant argues that the district court did not make this determination, the district court stated that the prosecution had “given a race-neutral reason” for the strike.  While the district court did not make explicit factual findings or credibility determinations, it ultimately concluded that the prosecution gave a race-neutral reason for the strike.[2]  Because the district court concluded the defendant failed to prove purposeful discrimination, the third prong of the Batson analysis is satisfied.

Because the district court conducted the Batson analysis and concluded that the prosecutor articulated a race-neutral explanation for the strike of the African-American juror, and because there is no clear proof the strike was pretextual, we affirm the decision of the district court.

            Affirmed.



[1] Available at http://www.lawlibrary.state.mn.us/archive/supct/0408/opa030502-0806.htm.

[2] Similar to the circumstances noted by Justice Hanson in White, __N.W.2d at __, No. A03-502, slip op. at SC-1 (Hanson, J., concurring), the jury selection in appellant’s trial occurred before the supreme court filed its decision in Reiners, 664 N.W.2d at 826.  “As a result, the district court did not have the benefit of [the supreme court’s] direction in that case that each step of the Batson analysis be clearly demarcated and explained.”  White, __N.W.2d at __, No. A03-502, slip op. at SC-1 (Hanson, J., concurring).  But “for purposes of appellate review, it is important that the district court analyze each step of the Batson process separately and on the record.”  Id.