Smith v. U.S., No. 06-CF-243.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Columbia District
Citation966 A.2d 367
Docket NumberNo. 06-CF-243.
PartiesEdwin K. SMITH, Appellant, v. UNITED STATES, Appellee.
Decision Date26 February 2009

and Cortney Lollar were on the brief, for appellant.

Patricia A. Heffernan, Assistant United States Attorney, with whom Jeffrey A. Taylor, United States Attorney, and Roy W. McLeese III, Thomas J. Tourish, Jr. and John C. Einstman, Assistant United States Attorneys, were on the brief, for appellee.

Before REID, BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

THOMPSON, Associate Judge:

On October 27, 2005, a jury convicted Edwin K. Smith of carrying a pistol without a license (CPWL), possession of an unregistered firearm (UF), unlawful possession of ammunition (UA), and unlawful possession of a controlled substance (crack cocaine).1 Smith appeals on two grounds. First, he argues that the trial court committed clear error in rejecting his Batson2 challenge to the prosecutor's use of peremptory strikes during jury selection, permitting the government to strike African-American venirepersons on account of their race. Second, Smith contends that a violation of the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause-the allowance of testimony about the so-called "DEA-7" drug analysis without the Drug Enforcement Administration chemist having testified and been subject to cross-examination-requires reversal of both his drug and weapons convictions.

We conclude that the trial judge did not fail to conduct an adequate inquiry or otherwise cleary err with respect to Smith's Batson challenge, and thus we reject Smith's first basis for appeal. We agree with Smith that the Confrontation Clause violation requires reversal of his cocaine-possession conviction (rather than, as the government urges, remand for entry of a judgment of conviction on the lesser-included offense of attempted possession). We are persuaded, however, that the Confrontation Clause violation was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt as to Smith's weapons convictions, and therefore we affirm those convictions.

I. The Batson Issue

We begin with our review of Smith's Batson challenge, recognizing that he would be entitled to reversal of all his convictions if the record establishes that race was a consideration in the prosecutor's decision to strike even one African-American juror. See Snyder v. Louisiana, ___ U.S. ___, 128 S.Ct. 1203, 1208, 170 L.Ed.2d 175 (2008) ("[t]he Constitution forbids striking even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory purpose") (quoting United States v. Vasquez-Lopez, 22 F.3d 900, 902 (9th Cir.1994)); (Edward) Robinson v. United States, 890 A.2d 674, 679-80 (D.C.2006) ("the erroneous rejection of a Batson challenge results in a `structural defect' that infects `the entire conduct of the trial from beginning to end' and hence is per se reversible") (quoting Arizona v. Fulminante, 499 U.S. 279, 309, 111 S.Ct. 1246, 113 L.Ed.2d 302 (1991)). Our task requires careful scrutiny of the record, because we must be guided by the principle that "race is an impermissible factor, even if a minor one, in exercising peremptory strikes." Tursio v. United States, 634 A.2d 1205, 1213 n. 7 (D.C.1993).3 Accordingly, we describe the Batson proceedings — in particular, the reasons that the prosecutor proffered for his strikes, defense counsel's response, and the trial court's evaluation — in some detail.

A. Jury Selection

The Batson issue arose on the first day of trial, after the prosecutor had exercised six of his peremptory strikes, when defense counsel told the court that "all of [the prosecutor's] strikes are African-American." The trial judge, the Honorable Judith Retchin, responded that given "what appears to be a pattern, I am going to ask the Government to justify each of the strikes noted."4 The prosecutor then offered reasons for several of the strikes. He explained that he struck Juror 478, an unemployed custodian, because "I noticed that he had earring holes in his left ear. . . . I didn't gather from talking with him . . . that he was particularly intelligent. That's the reason why I struck him." Judge Retchin responded, "Your next strike?"

As to Juror 372, a paralegal specialist for the Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA"), the prosecutor explained that he "got the impression" that she "was coming across as hostile when she was talking to me." When the court asked, "How so?," the prosecutor explained, "Just the looks she gave me. That's what I wrote down here." Judge Retchin asked defense counsel whether he had noticed any hostility and he responded, "No, Your Honor." The judge said, "Nor did I," but added that, "she did seem a bit abrupt. I can't say it's hostility, but that might be your perception." When defense counsel interjected that Juror 372 "was very, very appropriate in terms of her answers," the judge said again, "She was abrupt to the prosecutor." The judge then told the prosecutor to "[g]o ahead" with his explanations.

The prosecutor's next explanation was about Juror 774, who he observed was a "teacher doing social studies."5 The prosecutor explained that "I just felt as though he gave [defense counsel] good eye contact. I didn't think he responded very well to me. I wrote down here that he was kind of scary." Defense counsel interjected that in his opinion, Juror 774 was "[v]ery gentle and very humble." When the prosecutor responded that "I'm basing this . . . on my perception," the court stated, "if I discredit anything you say, that person is going to be seated." When the court further stated, "I did not perceive that" the prosecutor continued his explanation by saying, "when they first walk up, the first note I make is eye contact; who they are making eye contact with. If he's making eye contact with [defense counsel] as he walks up, instead of me, I take that as a partial negative situation." The court commented that the two counsel "seem to be in some contest to try to outtalk each other during voir dire."

The court then asked the prosecutor to again state for the record the basis for each of his strikes. The prosecutor resumed his explanation as to Juror 774 saying that "I believe he gave [defense counsel] good eye contact. He did not give me the same eye contact that he gave [defense counsel]. I felt like he was pro-defense in the way he spoke." The prosecutor added that he thought that because Juror 774 teaches social studies, "that he may be more interested in doing things that are more to the left of center, if you will, with regard to feeling like the kid needs another chance. I need to have people here who are going to . . . not take into consideration social things outside of the Court's instructions. . . ."

Moving to Juror 524, the prosecutor explained that he is "young, unemployed. I didn't really understand much of what he was saying."6 The court responded, "Your next one?"

The prosecutor then offered his explanation as to Juror 895, stating that he struck this juror because, "He had seizures and had been robbed several times. I felt as though he wasn't the brightest light in the courtroom. . . . I wanted somebody here that was going to be able to listen to the instructions, follow the Court's instructions."7 The court again responded, "Your next one?"

When the court asked the prosecutor to proceed with his next explanation, he referred to Juror 542, a flight attendant, and explained that, "I felt as though she also gave [defense counsel] good eye contact, and I put down here, `The willies.'" The prosecutor further explained that defense counsel "talked to her for quite some time. She seemed as though she was really already buying what [defense counsel] is selling." The prosecutor continued, "I felt as though they had established, again, with the extensive questionings by defense counsel, there had been a rapport already established to where — and I did not ask any questions. If you notice, [defense counsel] would start off his questions and a lot of these witnesses — ." The court responded that both counsel "were chomping at the bit to be the first one to question on most of them. I don't know how the court reporter could capture how the two of you seemed to be competing during voir dire."

When the prosecutor completed his remarks about the six stricken jurors, the court said, "I'm not going to make a Batson finding against you at this time. I'm not able to determine, whether you perceived that they made better eye contact with Mr. Williamson or had a relationship to Mr. Williamson superior to yours." The court told counsel to continue with jury selection, deferring her Batson ruling, but telling counsel to "be on notice."8 Defense counsel then told the court that he felt "compelled to respond" to some of the prosecutor's assertions. He told the court that he had asked only a single question of Juror 542. When Judge Retchin said, "I don't think it was a single question" defense counsel said, "if it was anything else, it would have been with reference to having lived in the area, whether or not she had been active in the community, that sort of thing." Defense counsel added that, "[t]he eye contact does not bring about a basis to strike someone. . . ." The court reiterated that, "I'm not able to make a Batson finding against Counsel at this time, given that you both, you [defense counsel] in particular, were having engaged conversations with people. And the prosecutor may legitimately find that you were using that to develop a rapport with the juror. So I'm not able to make a Batson finding based on that."

As jury selection thereafter continued, the prosecutor exercised his next three strikes, one against a Latina and two against Jurors 013 and 838, both African-American venirepersons. Defense counsel renewed his Batson motion, telling the court that he "distinctly remember[ed] the exchange between Juror Number 013 and him at the bench."...

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