Knight v. State
|03 April 1990
|15 Fla. L. Weekly D854 Robert KNIGHT, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
|Florida District Court of Appeals
Louis O. Frost, Jr., Public Defender and James T. Miller, Asst. Public Defender, Jacksonville, for appellant.
Robert A. Butterworth, Atty. Gen. and Edward C. Hill, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Tallahassee, for appellee.
Robert Knight appeals his conviction and sentence for burglary of an occupied structure. Because he had previously been convicted of several felonies, including recent convictions for two robberies, he was sentenced as a "habitual violent felony offender." He contends that the jury was selected in a manner violative of his rights under Article I, Section 16 of the Florida Constitution, as interpreted in State v. Neil, 457 So.2d 481 (Fla.1984). He also challenges his classification and sentencing as a habitual violent felony offender. We find that the trial court's failure to sustain Knight's objections to the prosecutor's exercise of peremptory challenges was within the broad discretion accorded trial courts in making such rulings. We also find no error in the classification and sentencing of Knight as a habitual violent felony offender. Consequently, we affirm.
Although four of the six jurors who ultimately served on the jury below were black, appellant nevertheless contends that other black potential jurors were excused in violation of the holding in Neil. He argues that the trial court committed error in denying his challenge to the appellee's exercise of its peremptory challenges.
In Neil, the Supreme Court held that Article I, Section 16 of the Florida Constitution extends a protection against improper bias in selection of juries that exceeds the current federal guarantees. The Supreme Court reaffirmed and expounded upon the Neil holding in State v. Slappy, 522 So.2d 18 (Fla.1988). In Reed v. State, 560 So.2d 203 (Fla. 1990), the court provided a summary of its holdings in Neil and Slappy, as follows:
In State v. Neil, 457 So.2d 481 (Fla.1984), and State v. Slappy, 522 So.2d 18 (Fla.), cert. denied , 108 S.Ct. 2873 (1988), we established procedures that were intended to abolish the discriminatory exercise of peremptory challenges. The defense must make a prima facie showing that there has been a strong likelihood that the jurors have been challenged because of their race. If the judge makes that finding, the burden shifts to the prosecution to show valid nonracial reasons why the individual minority jurors were struck. Neil.
During the course of jury selection below, the prosecutor exercised five peremptory challenges, four of which were used to excuse black potential jurors. Although the trial court did not find that appellant had satisfied his initial Neil burden of showing a "strong likelihood" that the black potential jurors had been challenged because of their race, the prosecutor nevertheless voluntarily gave her reasons for each of the four challenges.
In evaluating the reasons given by the prosecutor, the trial court was required to determine whether "some reasonable persons would agree" that the reasons given by the prosecutor were based upon valid nonracial considerations. Slappy, 522 So.2d at 23. We find that reasonable persons would agree that the challenges as to three of the prospective black jurors were valid. One of these three had a hearing problem and was on medication. The second had a felony conviction record and had recently been prosecuted by the local prosecutor's office. The third seemed to be either evasive or to have a memory problem, as he said he was unable to remember two jobs he had recently held. The sufficiency of the prosecutor's explanation for excusing the other peremptorily challenged black prospective juror, Miss Bellamy, was not as persuasive, however, as the explanations given for the other three challenges.
In explaining her reasons for peremptorily challenging Miss Bellamy, the prosecutor said:
Miss Bellamy is a single mother has [sic] four children. She does not own a home, and her job is being a cook. That is not a good state juror.
While a juror's occupation often provides a reasonable basis for the exercise of a peremptory challenge, it may not suffice when offered in the context of a Slappy inquiry, unless the occupation is shown to have some relationship to the case at hand. Here, we have difficulty understanding how Miss Bellamy's occupation as a cook had any relationship to a prosecution for burglary of a dwelling. We also have difficulty understanding how Miss Bellamy's marital status or her number of children had any potential relationship to the case below, or to her potential partiality. The other reason given by the prosecutor for challenging Miss Bellamy was that she was a renter, rather than a home owner. While a tenuous argument might be made that a home owner would be more likely to convict in a residential burglary case than would a renter, we note that two unchallenged jurors were also renters. In short, the prosecutor's showing as to Miss Bellamy was extremely marginal, at best.
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