Simpkins v. State

Decision Date01 September 1988
Docket NumberNo. 1466,1466
Citation558 A.2d 816,79 Md.App. 687
PartiesCharles Jerome SIMPKINS v. STATE of Maryland. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Michael R. Malloy, Asst. Public Defender (Alan H. Murrell, Public Defender, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Jillyn K. Schulze, Asst. Atty. Gen. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Baltimore, and Sandra A. O'Connor, State's Atty. for Baltimore County, Towson, on the brief), for appellee.


ALPERT, Judge.

On September 30, 1988, Charles Jerome Simpkins, appellant, was found guilty by a jury in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County (Fader, J., presiding) of armed robbery and use of a handgun in a crime of violence. Subsequently, the trial court sentenced him to a mandatory life sentence without parole pursuant to Article 27, Section 643B. Appellant files this appeal, and presents three questions for our review:

1. Did the lower Court err by overruling Appellant's objection to the prosecutor's improper use of a peremptory challenge to strike the only black prospective juror from the jury?

2. Did the lower Court err by sentencing Appellant to a § 643B(b) life sentence?

3. Was the evidence insufficient?

1. The Peremptory Challenge

Prior to trial, the trial court conducted voir dire during which the prosecution exercised a peremptory strike against the only black potential juror in the sixty person jury pool. At the conclusion of voir dire, the defense attorney brought this fact to the court's attention. The court directed the prosecutor to state his reasons for striking the juror, to which the prosecutor responded, "Okay. The lady works for the Social Security Administration as a claims examiner. I do not like people who work for Social Security. I think they are sympathetic to defendants and I traditionally strike them." The trial court accepted the prosecution's explanation, and the case proceeded to trial.

On appeal, appellant, a black male, contends that under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), his equal protection rights have been violated by the prosecution's purposeful exclusion from the jury panel of members of his own race. Specifically, he contends that the prosecutor did not rebut the prima facie case of prejudice established when the sole black prospective juror was peremptorily excluded from the panel. 1 We disagree. In Batson, supra, the Supreme Court articulated that the State's burden, once a prima facie case of discrimination is established, is to come forward with "a neutral explanation related to the particular case to be tried" for challenging black jurors. 476 U.S. at 98, 106 S.Ct. at 1723-24. This explanation need not, however, rise to the level of that required in justifying a "for cause" challenge, id. at 97, 106 S.Ct. at 1723; however, mere denials of discriminatory purpose or general assertions of good faith do not suffice to rebut the presumption. Id. at 98, 106 S.Ct. at 1723-24. In his concurring opinion, Justice White acknowledged that "[m]uch litigation will be required to spell out the contours of the Court's equal protection holding today ..." Id. at 102, 106 S.Ct. at 1725-26 (White, J., concurring).

We necessarily turn to the Court of Appeals for further explanation. In Stanley, supra, the Court articulated the burden the State must carry to rebut a prima facie case of discrimination:

At each hearing, the State is to present, if it can, honest, neutral, nonracial reasons for the challenges of each black potential juror who was stricken. Any reasons presented must be legitimate, clear and reasonably specific, as general assertions of assumed group bias or broad denials of discriminatory motives will be insufficient to overcome the defendants' prima facie cases. The reasons must be tailored to the particular facts of the case that was tried and related to the individual traits of the jurors. The defendant will be afforded the opportunity to rebut any explanations put forth by the prosecutor and to expose any justification that on its face may appear racially neutral, but is in reality a sham or pretext. The trial court must then articulate a clear ruling detailing the basis on which it was made, and explaining whether the established prima facie case of purposeful discrimination has been overcome by the State.

A new trial will be required if the State cannot produce satisfactory non-discriminatory reasons for every peremptory challenge exercised to exclude a black juror. A new trial will be ordered if any reasons given by the State are perceived by the trial court as only pretext and thus not satisfactorily racially neutral.

Id. [313 Md.] at 92-93, 542 A.2d 1267. Read narrowly, Stanley's proscription against strikes premised upon "general assertions of assumed group bias" and not "related to the individual trait of the jurors" would apparently invalidate the reasoning afforded the prosecutor in the case below. In light of later case law, further interpreting Batson both within this jurisdiction and in other states, and the dangers inherent in attempting to strictly regulate the use of a well-established and purposely broad doctrine of jury selection, i.e., the peremptory challenge, we perceive no Batson violation under the present circumstances.

Tolbert, supra, is the only Court of Appeals case that has actually reached beyond the establishment of a prima facie case of discrimination to examine the sufficiency of the prosecutor's explanation in rebuttal. In that case, the prosecutor exercised four of his peremptory challenges to strike four black potential jurors from the panel. The lower court found that a prima facie case of discrimination had been established, however, it was satisfied with the prosecutor's explanation that he was striking young women from the panel.

In reversing the trial court and remanding the case for a new trial, the Court of Appeals never reached the question of whether striking young women from the jury panel constituted "a permissible racially neutral selection criterion." Id. at 23, 553 A.2d 228. The court held, however, that with regard to the peremptory strike of two black, female potential jurors, 38 years of age and 54 years of age, the prosecutor's reason did not "hold water in the circumstances." Id. at 24, 553 A.2d 228. Although in Tolbert the court intimated that the prosecutor's gender-related reasons for striking potential jurors may, in and of themselves, violate constitutional or statutory law, a person's status as a claims examiner for the Social Security Administration does not invoke the same level of protection.

In other jurisdictions, reasons offered in rebuttal of a prima facie case of discrimination that have been found to be sufficiently neutral include the prospective juror's employment status. See, e.g., State v. Walton, 227 Neb. 559, 418 N.W.2d 589 (1988) (prospective juror was unemployed), United States v. McCoy, 848 F.2d 743 (6th Cir.1988) (same); Commonwealth v. Lloyd, 376 Pa.Super. 188, 545 A.2d 890 (1988) (same); State v. Minor, 755 S.W.2d 318 (Mo.App.1988) (prospective juror was a postal employee); State v. Rogers, 753 S.W.2d 607 (Mo.App.1988) (prospective juror was an employee at a state mental hospital). In Walton, supra, the reason proffered by the prosecutor to strike one of the prospective jurors was that she was married to a county social services worker. The Supreme Court of Nebraska stated:

The court held that the prosecutor's explanation was adequate to explain his challenge of the third black prospective juror. The prosecutor explained that the potential juror was married to a "Douglas County Social Services individual." The trial judge accepted this explanation, noting that he felt there is a tendency on the part of people engaged in social services to blame others than the individual involved after a wrongful act is done. A peremptory strike based on a trial attorney's explanation that he would prefer not to have jurors who work in the social services area, or their spouses, is not a racially discriminatory use of a peremptory challenge. The effect of the prosecutor's "neutral explanation" was that his peremptory challenge was based not on the prospective juror's race, but on the nature of the employment of the juror's wife. A white juror could be challenged on the same reasoning.

Id. at 593. See also State v. Rowe, 228 Neb. 663, 423 N.W.2d 782, 787 (1988) (upholding the removal of a prospective juror on the basis that she was a "Job Service employee ... engaged in a form of social work" and also that she was friendlier during defense counsel's questioning of prospective jurors than she was during the State's questioning).

In contrast, in Roman v. Abrams, 822 F.2d 214 (2nd Cir.1987), a case relied upon by appellant, the prosecutor attempted to justify his peremptory strikes on several bases including the assertion that "knowledge of electronics, bookkeeping and computers might prevent a person from accepting the reasonable doubt standard of proof." The Second Circuit found such explanations "were on their face unworthy of belief." Id. at 228. Further, in that case, a trial judge had expressly found the prosecutor's explanation to be "circumlocutory, trivial, childish, incredible, and designed to cover up the ADA's discriminatory intent." Id.

In the case sub judice, the court below found as a matter of fact that the prosecution's proffered reasoning was "an honest answer." Further, at the conclusion of the trial, the trial court supplemented his ruling with a factual determination that two other potential jurors, who were white and also worked for Social Security Administration, were peremptorily struck by the prosecutor. As we stated in Chew v. State, 71 Md.App. 681, 701, 527 A.2d 332, cert. granted, 311 Md. 301, 534 A.2d 369 (1987), "[o]nce the trial judge has made those determinations whichever way they go, any subsequent...

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