COA upholds denial of race-based Batson challenge

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The Indiana Lawyer on March 16, 2018 by Olivia Covington

A Madison County man who alleged the state challenged a potential juror for race-based reasons has lost his appeal, with the Indiana Court of Appeals finding the record of the robbery trial does not support the argument that the juror was released because he was black.

In Steven Wade Childress v. State of Indiana, 48A02-1707-CR-1658, Steven Childress and two companions tricked Darren Sloss into coming to visit them, then attacked him at gunpoint when he arrived. Sloss was beaten and pistol-whipped, saw Childress rummaging through his car, and was eventually robbed of $200 that was in his wallet.

Sloss reported the robbery, and Childress was charged with Level 3 felony armed robbery. After voir dire, the state made a peremptory challenge to Potential Juror 8, which Childress challenged with a Batson claim on the basis that Potential Juror 8 was the only remaining black juror.

The prosecutor, however, noted that when Potential Juror 8 was asked what reasonable doubt meant, the juror responded with “no doubt.” Though Potential Juror 2 gave a similar answer and was not dismissed, that juror eventually changed her response, while Potential Juror 8 did not, the prosecutor said. The Madison Circuit Court agreed and denied the Batson challenge, and Childress was found guilty as charged.

he Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the denial of Childress’ Batson challenge in a Friday opinion, with Judge Terry Crone initially noting the trial transcript was incomplete. Many portions of the transcript were labeled “indiscernible,” Crone said, while each juror was identified as “prospective juror,” making it impossible to determine which potential juror made which statements.

Though it was incomplete, Crone went on to write that the transcript did show that neither defense counsel nor the trial court disputed the prosecutor’s claim that Potential Juror 8 thought “reasonable doubt” meant “no doubt.” Thus, the appellate court determined Childress failed to prove the prosecutor’s alleged misrepresentation of the potential juror’s answer undermined his race-neutral reasoning for the peremptory challenge.

The court then found the prosecutor was not required to re-examine Potential Juror 8 after he gave his questionable answer. Finally, the panel determined that because Potential Juror 2 eventually changed her answer to the proper meaning of “reasonable doubt” – which Potential Juror 8 did not do – it could not be said that the challenge to Potential Juror 8 was racially motivated.