Fields v. People, 84SC382

Decision Date17 February 1987
Docket NumberNo. 84SC382,84SC382
Citation732 P.2d 1145
PartiesPaul Louis FIELDS, Petitioner, v. The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Respondent.
CourtColorado Supreme Court

Mary G. Allen, Denver, for petitioner.

Duane Woodard, Atty. Gen., Charles B. Howe, Deputy Atty. Gen., Richard H. Forman, Sol. Gen., Maureen Phelan, Asst. Atty. Gen., Denver, for respondent.

DUBOFSKY, Justice.

We granted certiorari to review the decision of the court of appeals in People v. Fields, 697 P.2d 749 (Colo.App.1984), affirming the conviction of the defendant, Paul Louis Fields, of one count of first degree murder and two counts of attempted first degree murder. The court of appeals upheld the district court's refusal to consider the defendant's argument that the prosecutor was using his peremptory challenges in an unconstitutional manner to exclude Spanish-surnamed persons from the jury panel. We hold that a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges systematically to exclude Spanish-surnamed persons from a jury deprives a defendant of the right to trial by an impartial jury guaranteed by the sixth amendment to the federal constitution and article II, section 16 of the Colorado Constitution. Although a defendant may establish a prima facie violation of this right solely on the basis of the use of peremptory challenges at the defendant's trial, here the transcript of the voir dire allows us to determine that the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to excuse three of the four Spanish-surnamed persons from the jury panel did not violate the defendant's right to an impartial jury. We affirm the judgment of the court of appeals.

I.

In August, 1980, the defendant began employment as a security guard at an Aurora K-Mart store. Jay Davis was the director of security for the store, and Doug Clunie was the immediate supervisor of the defendant and Davis. The store's manager was Anthony Butera. The defendant, who is black, testified at trial that he had a good working relationship with Davis and Butera and that his working relationship with Clunie initially had been good. However, the defendant's relationship with Clunie deteriorated and in January, 1981, the defendant overheard Clunie, a white, referring to the defendant's apprehension of black shoplifting suspects as "our coon has caught three more coons today." In early March, 1981, Clunie referred to the defendant as "burrhead." The defendant notified both the Urban League and the K-Mart security district manager of the name-calling incidents.

On March 19, 1981, the day after the district manager went to the store and discussed the name-calling incidents with Butera and Davis, the defendant was told that Butera had his time card and that he should go to Butera's office where Clunie and Davis joined Butera and the defendant. Butera told the defendant that his employment was terminated. The defendant responded by pulling a gun from his pocket and shooting Davis and Clunie; the defendant also fired toward Butera, but the shots missed him. Clunie died as a result of his wounds, and Davis was permanently injured.

The defendant was tried in the Arapahoe County District Court. During voir dire, after the prosecution had exercised six of its ten allotted peremptory challenges, 1 the defendant moved for a mistrial and for quashing of the jury panel on the ground that the prosecution was using its peremptory challenges systematically to exclude minority group members from the jury panel. In support of his motion, the defendant noted that the prosecution had exercised its second, fourth, and sixth peremptory challenges against Spanish-surnamed persons. The prosecution did not respond to the motion, which was denied by the court without discussion except to note that the defendant had exercised his fourth peremptory challenge to excuse the only remaining Spanish-surnamed panel member.

The jury finally seated did not have any black or Spanish-surnamed jurors. After the jury returned guilty verdicts against the defendant, he moved for a new trial, again raising the issue of the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges. The court denied the motion, and the defendant appealed to the court of appeals.

The court of appeals decided that the district court did not err in refusing to consider the defendant's claim that the prosecution had exercised its peremptory challenges in an unconstitutional manner. In so holding, the court of appeals relied on Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S.Ct. 824, 13 L.Ed.2d 759 (1965), in which the United States Supreme Court held that a defendant could not establish a violation of the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment solely on the basis of the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges at the defendant's trial. The court of appeals declined the defendant's invitation to hold that the jury selection procedure implicated the sixth amendment or state constitutional provisions. 2

II.

Swain v. Alabama, relied on by the court of appeals and the People, involved a challenge by a black defendant in a rape trial to the selection of the jury. The defendant pointed out that the six black people available for jury service in his case were all struck by the prosecutor through the use of what were, in effect, peremptory challenges, and the case was tried to an all-white jury. The defendant alleged that the systematic striking of blacks from the jury venire constituted purposeful discrimination in violation of the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution.

Addressing the defendant's claim, the Court began its discussion with the reiteration of the fundamental principle, developed in a line of cases beginning with Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. (10 Otto) 303, 25 L.Ed. 664 (1879), that the wholesale exclusion of blacks from jury service solely because of their race and for reasons unrelated to a particular case is prohibited by the equal protection clause. However, the Court decided in view of the long history and the importance of peremptory challenges to the system of trial by jury in this country that it would not be warranted in holding that a prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges in a given case may be subject to constitutional scrutiny. Such a holding, in the Court's view, would be at odds with the "essential nature" of peremptory challenges as challenges "exercised without a reason stated, without inquiry, and without being subject to the court's control." Swain, 380 U.S. at 220, 85 S.Ct. at 836 (citations omitted). Therefore, the Court decided:

The presumption in any particular case must be that the prosecutor is using the State's challenges to obtain a fair and impartial jury to try the case before the court. The presumption is not overcome and the prosecutor therefore subjected to examination by allegations that in the case at hand all Negroes were removed from the jury or that they were removed because they were Negroes.

Id. at 222, 85 S.Ct. at 837. The Court, however, suggested that the presumption of propriety in the use of peremptory challenges might be overcome by proof of a "prosecutor's systematic use of peremptory challenges against Negroes over a period of time." Id. at 227, 85 S.Ct. at 839.

The Court's holding in Swain concerning the burden of proving purposeful discrimination in the use of peremptory challenges prompted commentator criticism. 3 Two main objections to the decision were frequently raised. First, the realities of the criminal justice system and empirical evidence indicated that for a defendant to meet the burden of proof referred to in Swain would be a virtual impossibility because of the expense involved in transcribing voir dire in numerous criminal cases and the lack of information about the race of prospective jurors. Another defect perceived in Swain was that it precluded the first defendants experiencing discriminatory use of peremptory challenges in a given court from obtaining relief for a violation of an unquestioned right.

Motivated by these concerns and other considerations, several state courts relied on state constitutional provisions to depart from the rule of Swain. The seminal state court case rejecting the Swain approach was People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258, 148 Cal.Rptr. 890, 583 P.2d 748 (1978). Wheeler, like Swain, involved a black defendant's challenge to the exclusion of members of his race from the jury panel by the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges. Rather than address the issue under the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment, the California Supreme Court decided that "the 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 1, section 16, of the California Constitution." Id., 148 Cal.Rptr. at 899, 583 P.2d at 758 (footnote omitted). The court then concluded that a prosecutor's systematic use of peremptory challenges to exclude members of an identifiable racial, religious, ethnic, or other cognizable group solely on the ground of membership in the group or "group bias" violated the California constitution. Id. 148 Cal.Rptr. at 903, 583 P.2d at 761-62. The court cautioned that the right under discussion was not "the right to a jury that mirrors the demographic composition of the population, or necessarily includes members of [a defendant's] own group, or indeed is composed of any particular individuals." Id., 148 Cal.Rptr. at 903, 583 P.2d at 762. Rather, the right described by the court consists of the right to a "jury that is as near an approximation of the ideal cross-section of the community as the process of random draw permits." Id. Perhaps the most significant aspect of Wheeler was the court's decision to depart from Swain by recognizing that a defendant might make out a case of unconstitutional discrimination in the use of...

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