Sanchez v. Roden

Decision Date28 May 2014
Docket NumberNo. 13–1394.,13–1394.
Citation753 F.3d 279
PartiesDagoberto SANCHEZ, Petitioner, Appellant, v. Gary RODEN, Superintendent, Respondent, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — First Circuit


Ruth Greenberg, for appellant.

Thomas E. Bocian, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General, was on brief, for appellee.

Before HOWARD, RIPPLE,* and THOMPSON, Circuit Judges.

THOMPSON, Circuit Judge.

The Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause guarantees that no citizen will be excluded from jury service solely on account of his or her race. This logical proposition, bordering on the obvious, was enshrined as a matter of clearly established constitutional law in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). Indeed, [t]he Constitution forbids striking [from the jury] even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory purpose.” Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 478, 128 S.Ct. 1203, 170 L.Ed.2d 175 (2008) (quoting United States v. Vasquez–Lopez, 22 F.3d 900, 902 (9th Cir.1994)). The principles enunciated in Batson require both state and federal courts to “ensure that no citizen is disqualified from jury service because of his race.” 476 U.S. at 99, 106 S.Ct. 1712. The matter before us involves just such a claim. After careful review, we conclude that we must remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings.


The Massachusetts Appeals Court (“MAC”) set forth the underlying facts as they could have been found by the jury in Commonwealth v. Sanchez, 79 Mass.App.Ct. 189, 944 N.E.2d 625 (2011). Rather than regurgitate them, we refer the reader to the MAC's run-down. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that Sanchez was charged with second degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm after the shooting death of Jose Portillo in May 2005. Id. at 189–90, 944 N.E.2d 625. Sanchez contended at trial that his actions constituted lawful self-defense or lawful defense of another. Id.

1. Jury Impanelment in the Trial Court

As Sanchez's appeal arises out of the Commonwealth's use of peremptory challenges at jury impanelment, we describe that proceeding in some detail. Jury impanelment took place over the course of two days in September 2006. The size of the jury pool is not disclosed in the record. We do not know the age, racial, or ethnic background of each prospective juror or the proportion of males to females in the pool. We do know, however, that three of the jurors peremptorily challenged by the Commonwealth were black men aged twenty-five or younger, while another was a male Latino in his forties.

The trial judge sat a jury of sixteen, which entitled each side to sixteen peremptory strikes pursuant to Rule 20 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure. He acceded to the parties' joint request that he pose general questions to the entire panel to determine whether any prospective juror knew any of the parties or witnesses, as well as to delve into whether sitting on the jury would result in hardship to any prospective juror. This initial questioning was followed by individual voir dire.

Individual voir dire sought to ascertain whether each individual juror would be able to judge the evidence fairly and impartially. The judge identified Sanchez as a “Hispanic person” and asked each juror if he or she “ha[d] any feelings about Hispanic people that might, in any way, affect [his or her] sworn duty to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?” 1 Additional questioning was intended to ferret out whether jurors had any preexisting bias or prejudice against Sanchez and whether Sanchez's age on the date of the incident or at the time of trial, seventeen and eighteen years respectively, might prevent that juror from being fair and impartial. The judge told prospective jurors that there may be evidence at trial about street gangs in Chelsea, Massachusetts, and asked whether they had “any feelings or opinions about street gangs that might affect [their] ability to be fair and impartial.” They were also told the case may involve the concepts of self-defense and defense of another and, finally, asked if there was any other reason why they may not be able to be “fair and impartial” to the parties. Throughout this process, the trial judge afforded the parties an opportunity to suggest additional, individualized areas of inquiry based on the responses to these questions.

The trial judge excused numerous jurors for cause, including reasons such as knowledge of a witness or potential bias for or against a likely witness or the defendant. Those jurors not excused for cause became subject to the parties' peremptory challenges, with the Commonwealth going first. If neither party exercised a peremptory challenge, the juror was immediately seated. Thus, the trial judge opted to have the parties use their challenges as the seats were filled, instead of seating sixteen qualified jurors before allowing the parties to exercise peremptory challenges. We primarily concern ourselves here with the fates of five prospective jurors.

The first is Juror No. 201, a twenty-five-year-old black male who was born in Trinidad and employed as a computer technician.2 He did not reveal on his juror questionnaire a history of arrests or involvement with law enforcement or the court system. The transcript of his individual voir dire indicates that he responded appropriately to the questions asked, and the trial judge did not excuse him for cause. The Commonwealth, however, used its fifth peremptory challenge to keep him from being seated on the jury.

Next up is Juror No. 227, a twenty-four-year-old black man from Boston. According to his questionnaire, Juror No. 227's only past experience with law enforcement was a prior arrest arising out of an unpaid traffic violation. His responses to the individual voir dire questions were appropriate, the trial judge did not find any cause to excuse him, and neither party asked the court to make any further inquiry into his background. The Commonwealth exercised its seventh peremptory challenge to exclude him from the jury.

Third is Juror No. 243, a twenty-one-year-old male born in Moscow, Russia, who the parties agree is white. According to his juror questionnaire, he was a student at Boston University and worked part-time as an administrative assistant for a non-profit organization. Juror No. 243 answered the court's questions appropriately, and he did not claim that serving on the jury would negatively impact his schooling. When questioned about the nature of his studies, Juror No. 243 told the court he was studying international relations. He did not take the opportunity to ask to be excused from jury service. Neither party exercised a challenge, and he was seated.

Juror No. 246 was a forty-one-year-old man originally from Guatemala. When asked whether there was any reason that he might not be able to be fair and impartial, his response was “I hope I could be fair.” Upon further questioning from the trial judge about his ability to remain impartial, Juror No. 246 stated [j]ust that the responsibility—I mean, no, no.” At sidebar, the Commonwealth asked the court to explore whether the prospective juror was “daunted at the responsibility of returning a verdict in this case,” which led to further questioning and another rather uncertain response. The Commonwealth then exercised its eleventh peremptory challenge.

Finally, we reach Juror No. 261, a nineteen-year-old black college student from Boston. According to his juror questionnaire, he worked part-time at Home Depot and had no arrests or other contact with law enforcement or the court system. The transcript indicates that he answered the court's questions appropriately at individual voir dire. When asked, he told the court that he was a student at Northeastern University, but did not claim the disruption to his studies would constitute an undue hardship. The trial judge did not find any cause to excuse him. The Commonwealth, however, exercised its twelfth peremptory challenge to prevent Juror No. 261 from being seated.

At this point, defense counsel spoke up and objected to what he considered to be the Commonwealth's pattern of challenges against “African Americans 3 that have been ... relatively young males.” He argued “there's nothing about this juror that would support a non-discriminatory reason for exercising this challenge.” The court then volunteered, “I think his youth and the fact that he's a full-time college studentcould be a problem.” 4 The prosecutor, however, did not respond to the court's speculative statement or indicate that those were, in fact, the reasons for his challenge. Instead, the Commonwealth questioned whether defense counsel was “making a BatsonSoares5 challenge or ... just making a record of it [.] Defense counsel confirmed he was objecting to the peremptory challenge against Juror No. 261, and argued that a prima facie showing of discrimination had been made based upon the Commonwealth's challenges to two previous young black men and Juror No. 246 (the man from Guatemala). Defense counsel then asserted that in light of the latest challenge to Juror No. 261, “this would be the fourth person of color” prevented from sitting on the jury.

The trial judge first attempted to resolve the objection by stating, “for purposes of this particular juror, alone, I will find that there is a pattern of challenging black young men.” The judge then asked the Commonwealth to explain the basis for its peremptory challenge. The Commonwealth fought back, however, asking the trial judge if he was actually “finding a pattern of challenges by the Commonwealth with respect to young African American men [,] and advising the court that it needed to find such a pattern existed before it could inquire as to the reasoning behind the challenges. The following colloquy took place between the trial judge and the prosecutor, Attorney Mark Lee:

The Court: Basically, what...

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