Porter v. Coyne-Fague, C.A. No. 19-516-JJM-PAS

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
Writing for the CourtJOHN J. MCCONNELLl, JR., Chief United States District Judge.
Citation528 F.Supp.3d 2
Parties Leron PORTER, Petitioner, v. Patricia COYNE-FAGUE, Respondent.
Docket NumberC.A. No. 19-516-JJM-PAS
Decision Date24 March 2021

Robert B. Mann, Robert B. Mann Law Office, Providence, RI, for Petitioner.

Christopher R. Bush, Office of the Attorney General, Providence, RI, for Respondent.


JOHN J. MCCONNELLl, JR., Chief United States District Judge.


Petitioner Leron Porter requests habeas relief from this Court based on the State's use of peremptory challenges during his 2013 criminal trial. ECF No. 1. He brings this petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that the Rhode Island Supreme Court misapplied or misconstrued Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986) when it concluded that the prosecutor's reason for striking Juror 103 was neither race based nor pretextual. Arguing that his petition fails to meet the high standards necessary for habeas relief, the State urges this Court to dismiss Mr. Porter's claim. ECF No. 4. For the reasons below, the State's argument prevails, and Mr. Porter's petition is DENIED.


Mr. Porter's case begins in 2011, when a "feud between two women over one man and an ensuing brawl led to the senseless murder of Tiphany Tallo ..., a teenage girl." State v. Porter , 179 A.3d 1218, 1222 (R.I. 2018). Mr. Porter – a Black man – was charged with Ms. Tallo's murder and eight other felonies. Id. at 1223 & n.6. In November 2013, the R.I. Superior Court seated a 14-person jury in Providence County over the course of three days. During empanelment, the defense made Batson objections challenging the prosecution's use of peremptory strikes on two jurors. Both strikes were successful, and the final jury contained no people of color.1 Mr. Porter was convicted on multiple counts and sentenced to several overlapping prison terms by the trial justice.2 ECF No. 15 at 1-2.

Following his conviction, Mr. Porter petitioned the R.I. Supreme Court – arguing, among other things, that the trial justice violated his rights under Batson by denying his attorney's challenges to the prosecutor's peremptory strikes. Porter , 179 A.3d at 1224-27. After the court upheld both strikes, he appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which denied his petition for a writ of certiorari on October 15, 2018. Id., cert. denied , ––– U.S. ––––, 139 S.Ct. 376, 202 L.Ed.2d 287 (2018). He now petitions this Court for habeas relief, arguing that the trial justice, and state appellate court, misapplied or misconstrued Batson when they found the prosecutor's reasons for striking Juror 103 permissible.3

Trial Court Proceedings

The relevant trial court proceedings began on November 6, 2013, when Juror 103 was preliminarily selected to serve on Mr. Porter's jury. Before being seated for voir dire, the juror immediately asked to speak with the trial justice. There, he expressed concerns about serving as a juror because of his work as an institutional attendant at the Eleanor Slater Hospital, where inmates and forensic patients are treated. He noted that Mr. Porter's case had generated "considerable chatter" at his workplace, and an individual's jury service is "pretty much public information." ECF No. 4-2 at 190, 193. Altogether, he worried about potential repercussions at work following a verdict — telling the court "chances are, regardless of which way it goes, I can find myself subject of either allegations or hostile treatment either from the staff or from patients." Id. at 191.

Throughout the colloquy, Juror 103 maintained that he would be able to serve as a fair and impartial juror. When asked by the trial justice if he was "in any way biased or prejudiced in connection with how [he] might resolve this case," he replied "[n]o, not at all." Id. at 191-92. Addressing his fear of retaliation at work, he noted: "I don't think it would affect me being fair, but it possibly could affect my life thereafter." Id. at 196. After more back-and-forth, the trial justice followed up with a final question: "are you assuring me, as you stand here right now, you are a fair and impartial juror?" Id. at 197. Juror 103 answered affirmatively. Following the sidebar, subsequent questioning in front of the venire established that Juror 103 had friendships with police and correctional officers, but would be able to sit fairly and impartially, listening to and applying the court's instructions. Id. at 198-200. The court had Juror 103 join the panel.

At the end of voir dire, following a brief recess, the prosecution sought to exercise a peremptory strike on Juror 103, explaining to the trial justice:

... [T]he State bases its challenge on the following. The juror ultimately indicated that he has a feeling and is under the belief that as a consequence of his verdict, he may face repercussions, or he would face – and I think the words he used, Your Honor, was he would get blow-back, quote-unquote. Blow-back and concern, based on his verdict.
Essentially, what he was saying is that – and, again, this is the State's take – he's a member of the African-American community, the defendant at the bar is a member of the African American community, he's the only one on the panel who is, and if he were to vote guilty there could be consequences to it. And I would submit, respectfully, I may be wrong, but if he were to vote not guilty, I don't think he would have any consequence. I don't think he indicated – and I think, I would infer from the record that all of his concern is, quote, towards a guilty verdict. He never was asked that, but I would – as common sense indicates, how could it not be for a not guilty verdict?
Essentially, although he may have said he could deliver a verdict in this case, he expressed, as stated on the record, if the defendant was found guilty, the – a person at the ACI that got word of that could cause him concern, and I think he actually used the words: They would find out, and it could affect me.
I think, based on that, the State submits that we have a reason that although he said he could deliver a verdict, quite frankly, I still think it's a concern for him, and based on that, we would ask to excuse the juror.

Id. at 202-03 (emphasis added).

Defense counsel responded with a Batson objection, describing Juror 103 as an "articulate, well-defined, apparently, African male, who has indicated, without question, that he could be fair and impartial to both the State and to the defendant." Id. at 204. Counsel also pointed out that Juror 103 was the sole remaining person of color in the pool, as the prosecution had previously exercised a peremptory strike against the only other one. Without Juror 103, counsel argued, Mr. Porter would be deprived "of his right to have a representative body determine his innocence or guilt." Id.

The trial justice rejected defense's Batson challenge. He began by observing that his role was "to determine whether or not the State's explanation is a race-neutral explanation for the exercise of a peremptory challenge" and "not pretextual." Id. at 205. Emphasizing the earlier colloquy, the justice noted:

[Juror 103], at the very outset when his name was called, declined to take his seat in the jury box and immediately asked to come to the bench, and his first comments to us clearly indicated that he wanted to be excused. He did not want to be here. Does not want to be here. He explained to us the concerns he has that there will be some kind of repercussion at the workplace, regardless of what the verdict is, the result of the deliberations.

Id. He found that, irrespective of Juror 103's efforts to be fair in deliberations, concerns surrounding his employment were sufficient race-neutral reasons to excuse the juror. In this vein, the justice also expressed a concern – not mentioned by any other individuals – that Juror 103 might inject "explanations about his workplace situation" into the jury's deliberations. Id. at 205-06. Accordingly, the prosecution was successful in striking Juror 103.

Rhode Island Supreme Court Findings

Following his conviction, Mr. Porter appealed his Batson challenges to the R.I. Supreme Court, which analyzed the trial court proceedings under the required three-part test. The court held that the first step – which requires the defendant to "establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination" – was moot, "because the trial justice acknowledged that [Juror 103 is] of minority descent, considered the prosecution's race-neutral reasons for [the] strike, and entertained defendant's objections." Porter , 179 A.3d at 1224, 1226 (citations omitted). The court then proceeded to the next step, for which "the burden shifts to the prosecution to articulate its race-neutral reason(s) for challenging that particular juror." Id. at 1224 (citations and quotations omitted). Identifying the prosecutor's reason for striking Juror 103 as "based on [his] concerns—raised at the outset—about potential retaliation he could face as a juror in this case," the court found "no error in the trial justice's conclusion that the state's explanation for [the] challenge could qualify as a race-neutral reason for excusing the juror." Id. at 1226.

Finally, the state supreme court undertook the third step – "determining whether the trial justice properly concluded that the race-neutral reasons for the strike did not amount to purposeful discrimination." Id. There, the state court highlighted the fact that Juror 103 "sua sponte requested a sidebar in order to discuss his concerns about potential retaliation at work regardless of the outcome of the trial," and emphasized the deference afforded to trial justices "when evaluating the prosecution's state of mind." Id. at 1227. Ultimately, the court held that the prosecutor's stated concerns qualify as a race-neutral reason for a peremptory challenge. Id. Although the court noted in a footnote that ‘it would have been more appropriate for the trial justice, at this juncture, to have...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 cases
  • Porter v. Coyne-Fague, 21-1333
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 31, 2022
    ...applicable to habeas review, the decision of the state supreme court should not be disturbed. See Porter v. Coyne-Fague (Porter II ), 528 F. Supp. 3d 2, 9-10 (D.R.I. 2021). The petitioner appeals.This is the rare case in which the prosecutor's explanation for his peremptory strike was not r......
  • Porter v. Coyne-Fague, 21-1333
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 31, 2022
    ...applicable to habeas review, the decision of the state supreme court should not be disturbed. See Porter v. Coyne-Fague (Porter II), 528 F.Supp.3d 2, 9-10 (D.R.I. 2021). The petitioner appeals. This is the rare case in which the prosecutor's explanation for his peremptory strike was not rac......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT