State v. Mootz

Decision Date09 April 2012
Docket NumberNo. 10–0418.,10–0418.
Citation808 N.W.2d 207
PartiesSTATE of Iowa, Appellee, v. Jerin Douglas MOOTZ, Appellant.
CourtIowa Supreme Court


Mark C. Smith, State Appellate Defender, and Leslie Behaunek, Student Legal Intern, and Martha J. Lucey, Assistant Appellate Defender, for appellant.

Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, Linda J. Hines, Assistant Attorney General, Michael J. Walton, County Attorney, and Dion D. Trowers, Assistant County Attorney, for appellee.

ZAGER, Justice.

Defendant Jerin Mootz appeals his conviction for assault on a police officer resulting in bodily injury in violation of Iowa Code section 708.3A (2009). During voir dire, Mootz sought to use a peremptory challenge to remove a Hispanic juror. The district court found Mootz was using his strikes in a racially discriminatory manner, denied the strike, and seated the juror. Mootz was convicted and appealed. We transferred the case to the court of appeals. The court of appeals found the district court erred in refusing to allow the strike of the potential juror, but Mootz had not shown that the error prejudiced him, and affirmed the conviction. We granted further review. For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the decision of the district court and remand for a new trial.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History.

On June 6, 2009, shortly before midnight, Davenport police officer Epigmenio Canas, who is Hispanic, was dispatched to a disturbance at a bar. As he entered the parking lot of the bar, he saw a large number of people pushing and screaming at each other. Canas was in uniform and driving a marked squad car. As Canas attempted to arrest one of the male instigators, a female, later identified as Tamara Mootz, the defendant's wife, pushed Canas. As Canas was dealing with her, the defendant, Jerin Mootz, ran towards Canas and punched him in the side of the face with a closed fist. A struggle ensued and the two went to the ground. Canas ultimately gained control over Mootz after several punches were exchanged.

Mootz was charged by trial information with assault on a police officer resulting in bodily injury in violation of Iowa Code section 708.3A. Trial commenced on February 8, 2010. Mootz waived reporting of voir dire.

Based on the subsequent record, however, we are able to determine that prior to the attorneys' exercise of their peremptory strikes, the court advised the parties that it had observed three minorities on the jury panel, two of whom were Hispanic males.1 The court advised counsel that only one of the minority jurors, Alexander Ramirez, was “strikable.” Ramirez was strikable because of his relationship to area law enforcement and a medical issue he needed to attend to that day. Mootz struck Ramirez from the jury panel. Mootz attempted to strike Andrew Garcia, a Hispanic male, who in the district court's view at the time, was the only other Hispanic juror.

Subsequently, the court, sua sponte, conducted a hearing in chambers and asked the State if it objected to Mootz striking Garcia. The State indicated it objected to the peremptory strike stating there was no “relevant reason for him being stricken.” In response to the objection to his strike, Mootz stated he did not have to give a reason. However, if he did have to provide a reason, he was striking Garcia because Garcia was a former bartender who claimed he knew about intoxication and because Garcia stated he had been previously arrested and thought he deserved it.

The court concluded that the reasons offered by Mootz were insufficient to challenge him. The court went on to state, [W]e have a police officer who is Hispanic and we make it a point to make sure that minorities are treated fairly like everyone else on our jury panel and I think that's important and that applies to both the Defendant and the State.” The court did not allow Mootz to strike Garcia, instructed counsel to strike somebody else, and Garcia was sworn and served as a juror.

After the State called two witnesses, but before the jury returned from lunch, Mootz moved for a mistrial. Mootz claimed that he was denied his absolute right to strike any of the proposed jurors and that by allowing Garcia to sit on the jury, the court had denied Mootz his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. This motion was denied by the district court citing the fact that the victim was Hispanic and that “it's fair that we have a proper mixture of backgrounds on the jury.”

The jury, including Garcia, found Mootz guilty. On February 17, Mootz filed a motion for a new trial, again stating he was improperly denied his use of a peremptory strike against Garcia. Attached to his motion, Mootz submitted the juror interview sheet identifying Ott as another Hispanic juror whom he did not attempt to strike. Mootz claimed that no prima facie case had been made showing he exercised his challenges in a racially discriminatory manner, that he had offered a race-neutral explanation for his strike, and that there had been no showing that his reasons were merely pretextual. Mootz sought a new trial on the grounds that he had been denied “his statutory right to a peremptory challenge and a fair trial.” The court denied the motion on February 24 and sentenced Mootz to an indeterminate term not to exceed two years in prison and a fine of $1500. Mootz timely filed a notice of appeal on March 15, 2010.

The court of appeals, in a split decision, affirmed Mootz's conviction. Citing State v. Neuendorf, 509 N.W.2d 743 (Iowa 1993), and Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148, 129 S.Ct. 1446, 173 L.Ed.2d 320 (2009), the majority held that, while the district court erred in denying Mootz's peremptory challenge, Mootz was not entitled to a reversal of his conviction because he had failed to show that the trial court's error resulted in prejudice. The dissent argued that because the jury that determined Mootz's guilt improperly included a juror Mootz was denied the right to strike, prejudice should be presumed, Mootz's conviction reversed, and the case remanded for a new trial. We granted further review.

II. Standard of Review.

Interpretations of the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure are reviewed for corrections of errors at law. State v. Bruce, 795 N.W.2d 1, 2 (Iowa 2011). To the extent our review implicates any constitutional claims, our review is de novo. State v. Veal, 564 N.W.2d 797, 806 (Iowa 1997), overruled in part on other grounds by State v. Hallum, 585 N.W.2d 249, 253 (Iowa 1998), vacated on other grounds, 527 U.S. 1001, 119 S.Ct. 2335, 144 L.Ed.2d 233 (1999). In cases where the prosecution has been accused of using strikes to engage in purposeful racial discrimination, we have given a great deal of deference to the district court's evaluation of credibility when determining the true motives of the attorney when making strikes. See id. at 807. We will give the district court's evaluation of a defense attorney's credibility and motives the same level of deference.

III. Discussion.

The district court did not allow Mootz to strike a second Hispanic juror, even after Mootz offered a racially neutral explanation for the strike. Our task on appeal is twofold. First, we must determine whether the district court erred when it denied Mootz a peremptory challenge on the basis that he was using the strike to engage in purposeful racial discrimination. Second, if we determine the court's ruling was in error, we must determine the appropriate remedy.

A. The Allegation that Mootz Used His Strikes to Engage in Purposeful Discrimination on the Basis of Race. A defendant violates the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights of a juror when he uses his peremptory challenges, or strikes, to engage in purposeful, racially motivated discrimination. Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 48, 59, 112 S.Ct. 2348, 2353, 2359, 120 L.Ed.2d 33, 44, 51 (1992). In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), the Supreme Court held that a prosecutor could not use his peremptory challenges to engage in purposeful racial discrimination. Batson, 476 U.S. at 100, 106 S.Ct. at 1725, 90 L.Ed.2d at 90. A challenge to the defendant's use of strikes based on purposeful racial discrimination is known as a “reverse- Batson challenge.” United States v. Thompson, 528 F.3d 110, 115 (2d Cir.2008). In addition to protecting the equal protection rights of jurors, the Batson rule was extended to the actions of a defendant because allowing a defendant to obtain an acquittal that is “assisted by racially discriminatory peremptory strikes” undermines public confidence in the judicial system just as much as a conviction that is obtained by purposeful racial discrimination on the part of a prosecutor. McCollum, 505 U.S. at 50, 112 S.Ct. at 2354, 120 L.Ed.2d at 45.

The Fourteenth Amendment only prohibits purposeful racial discrimination that is “attributable to state action.” Id. The Supreme Court held that when a state court allows a defendant to exercise a peremptory challenge in a discriminatory fashion, the court “place[s] its power, property and prestige behind the [alleged] discrimination.” Id. at 52, 112 S.Ct. at 2355, 120 L.Ed.2d at 47 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (second alteration in original). Even though a peremptory challenge is, by its very nature, a capricious and arbitrary statutory right of the defendant, a court cannot enforce the defendant's exercise of that right it if is used to engage in purposeful racial discrimination against potential jurors. See id. at 50–55, 112 S.Ct. at 2354–57, 120 L.Ed.2d at 45–48 (finding enforcement of a defendant's peremptory challenge to be a state action).

Courts use the Batson test to determine if a litigant is using peremptory challenges to engage in purposeful racial discrimination. The Supreme Court has summarized the Batson test as follows:

Under our Batson jurisprudence, once the opponent of a peremptory challenge has made out a prima...

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