May v. State

Decision Date28 January 1986
Docket Number6 Div. 770
Citation485 So.2d 1221
PartiesMarvin Lamar MAY v. STATE.
CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals

Michael D. Blalock, Birmingham, for appellant.

Charles A. Graddick, Atty. Gen. and Victor Jackson, Asst. Atty. Gen., for appellee.


Appellant, Marvin Lamar May, was convicted of first degree robbery on January 17, 1985. Code of Alabama § 13A-8-41 (1975). The State submitted proof of four prior felony convictions and appellant was sentenced as a habitual offender to life imprisonment, without parole, in the state penitentiary. Code of Alabama (1975), § 13A-5-9. Appellant raises one issue on appeal, contending that the State systematically excluded blacks from the jury. 1 A detailed account of the facts is, therefore, not necessary for a determination of this cause.

During the empanelling of the jury, the following occurred:

"MR. BLALOCK [defense counsel]: I want to object to the systematic exclusion of the black racial group by the prosecutor at this time. Four strikes out of five have been of the black race. My defendant happens to be of the black race. We would say it's a systematic exclusion of them by the prosecutor.

"THE COURT: Overruled.

"MR. BLALOCK: Violating the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of my client.

"THE COURT: Overruled."

The State used its peremptory challenges to exclude six blacks and one white from the jury venire. Four blacks remained on the jury which tried appellant.

At the hearing on appellant's motion for a new trial, appellant argued that the State has engaged in the practice of systematic exclusion for an extensive period of time. In support of this allegation, defense counsel submitted statistical data compiled from his last ten criminal trials, which covered a two-year time period. These statistics indicated that the State had used a large number of its peremptory challenges to remove blacks from the panel; however, of the ten trials, seven juries contained black jurors, ranging in number from one to eight. Defense counsel in all ten trials struck only white members of the panel and his notes indicated that, in a robbery prosecution, he failed to strike a black individual who had been the victim of a robbery. Appellant argues that these figures satisfy the quantum of proof necessary to establish purposeful invidious discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment as set forth in Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S.Ct. 824, 13 L.Ed.2d 759 (1965).

In Swain the Court extensively reviewed the purpose and history of the peremptory challenge system as it has developed over the last 300 years. The strikes have historically been available to the defense and prosecution without cause and without justification. Id. at 220, 85 S.Ct. at 835. The Swain analysis has been accepted in an overwhelming majority of jurisdictions, see Annot., 79 A.L.R.3d 14 (1977), and supports the peremptory strike system as an essential aspect of jury trial. 380 U.S. at 220-22, 85 S.Ct. at 835-37.

Swain also stated that the systematic use of peremptory challenges to exclude a particular group from juries over an extended period of time amounts to "invidious discrimination for which the peremptory system is insufficient justification." Id. at 223, 85 S.Ct. at 837. The Court further stated, id.:

"We have decided that it is permissible to insulate from inquiry the removal of Negroes from a particular jury on the assumption that the prosecutor is acting on acceptable considerations related to the case he is trying, the particular defendant involved and the particular crime charged. But when the prosecutor in a county, in case after case, whatever the circumstances, whatever the crime and whoever the defendant or the victim may be, is responsible for the removal of Negroes who have been selected as qualified jurors by the jury commissioners and who have survived challenges for cause, with the result that no Negroes ever serve on petit juries, the Fourteenth Amendment claim takes an added significance.... If the State has not seen fit to leave a single Negro on any jury in a criminal case, the presumption protecting the prosecutor may well be overcome."

The data supplied by appellant is clearly inadequate to prove the allegation of systematic exclusion. The heavy burden placed on appellant requires the following:

"At his evidentiary hearing, petitioner must prove on specific facts that [the prosecutor] had a systematic and intentional practice of excluding blacks from traverse juries in criminal cases through the exercise of peremptory challenges, and that this practice continued unabated in petitioner's trial. The exclusion must have occurred 'in case after case, whatever the circumstances, whatever the crime and whoever the defendant may be'.... The prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges in only a few trials is clearly insufficient to state a prima facie case, as would be a pattern of exclusion which occurred for only a few weeks. In short, petitioner must marshal enough historical proof to overcome the presumption of propriety in which Swain clothes peremptory challenges, and thereby show [the prosecution's] intent to discriminate invidiously."

Willis v. Zant, 720 F.2d 1212, 1220 (11th Cir.1982) (footnote omitted; emphasis in original). See also United States v. Pearson, 448 F.2d 1207 (5th Cir.1971); Jackson v. State, [Ms. 6 Div. 767, April 9, 1985] --- So.2d ---- (Ala.Crim.App.1985). Ten trials conducted over a two-year period in Jefferson County simply do not constitute sufficient "historical proof to overcome the presumption of propriety" established in Swain. We find that appellant has failed to establish that the prosecutor in Jefferson County had used the peremptory challenge system to systematically exclude blacks from serving on juries.

Assuming that a prima facie showing of systematic exclusion could be made, reversal would not be required under the facts of a case such as this. At the evidentiary hearing conducted on appellant's motion for new trial, the prosecutor elected to disclose his strategic reasons for exercising peremptory challenges against the individuals he struck from the venire. We hasten to add that the prosecutor was under no duty to disclose this information because there had been no finding of systematic exclusion which would operate to shift the burden of proof to the State. Swain, 380 U.S. at 224, 85 S.Ct. at 838. The prosecutor articulated racially neutral reasons for exercising the peremptory challenges against each individual struck from the venire.

In Zant, 720 F.2d at 1221, the Eleventh Circuit, indicating two ways in which the State may rebut a prima facie case of systematic exclusion, stated:

"A second way in which the prosecutor may rebut a prima facie case under Swain is .... to show neutral reasons for the striking of all the blacks in petitioner's trial itself. The prosecutor may have had strategic reasons unrelated to race for striking the eleven blacks in [this] case. If so, he may bring them to the district court's attention and--subject to the caveat above concerning testimony of alleged discrimination after a prima facie case is shown [namely, the caveat that ' "testimony from the alleged discriminators should be viewed with a great deal of judicial scrutiny" ']--the district court could credit this testimony as adequate rebuttal."

Id. at 1221. In the case at bar the prosecutor maintained a record of the individuals he struck and the reasons why each was struck. The prosecutor referred to this "sheet" as he testified. We have carefully reviewed the reasons articulated by the prosecutor and find each to be a valid racially neutral reason for exercising his peremptory challenges. Thus, if a prima facie case were sufficiently shown, the prosecutor's testimony would have acted to rebut any inference of systematic exclusion in this case.


Appellant argues that the quantum of proof necessary to establish a prima facie case under Swain is virtually impossible to achieve. As we noted in Jackson, supra, at fn. 5:

"Extensive criticism has been directed toward this [Swain ] burden ... In its recent decision of United States v. Childress, the Eighth Circuit found only two successful Swain claims anywhere, State v. Brown, 371 So.2d 751 (La.1979) and State v. Washington, 375 So.2d 1162 (La.1979). However, the burden is not insurmountable. United States v. Carter, 528 F.2d at 850."

Appellant urges us to adopt a method which allows the defendant to overcome the Swain presumption (that the prosecutor is using his challenges to obtain a fair and impartial jury, 380 U.S. at 222, 85 S.Ct. at 837) based entirely upon the facts of his own case.

Recently several state courts and two federal circuit courts of appeals have moved away from the rigorous standard of Swain and developed a body of law which allows the defendant to contest the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges based on the facts of his individual case. State court decisions have relied upon provisions of their state constitutions to sanction a case by case test for the use of peremptory challenges. Most notable is People v. Wheeler, 22 Cal.3d 258, 148 Cal.Rptr. 890, 583 P.2d 748 (1978), and Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 387 N.E.2d 499 (1979). In Wheeler, 148 Cal.Rptr. at 908, 583 P.2d at 767, the California Supreme Court interpreted its state constitution to provide a greater protection to California residents than that provided in Swain. Wheeler has been understood as holding that counsel may raise the issue of a representative jury composition upon a showing that jurors peremptorily challenged share only one characteristic of group association and that group bias alone formed the basis for challenge. State v. Sims, 639 S.W.2d 105, 108 (Mo.App.1982) (interpreting Wheeler ). According to Wheeler once the defendant makes a prima facie showing that there is a substantial likelihood that the prosecution has exercised its...

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2 cases
  • Owens v. State, 4 Div. 536
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • February 12, 1986
    ...444 U.S. 881, 100 S.Ct. 170, 62 L.Ed.2d 110 (1979). We have extensively reviewed the Wheeler/Soares approach in the recent case of May v. State, supra, and expressly rejected the method proposed by appellant. We adhere to our decision in after case, whatever the circumstances, whatever the ......
  • Crawford v. State, 6 Div. 775
    • United States
    • Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
    • January 28, 1986
    ...exclusion of blacks from juries in Jefferson County by the district attorney's office's use of their peremptory strikes. May v. State, 485 So.2d 1221 (Ala.Cr.App.1986). The appellant has failed to meet his burden of proof on this issue. See United States v. Brooks, 670 F.2d 148 (11th Cir.19......

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