State v. Valdez

Decision Date21 July 2006
Docket NumberNo. 20040633.,20040633.
Citation2006 UT 39,140 P.3d 1219
PartiesSTATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Petitioner, v. Anthony James VALDEZ, Defendant and Respondent.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

Mark L. Shurtleff, Att'y Gen., Christine Soltis, Asst. Att'y Gen., Byron F. Burmester, Salt Lake City, for petitioner.

John D. O'Connell, Jr., Lori Seppi, Salt Lake City, for respondent.

On Certiorari to the Utah Court of Appeals

DURHAM, Chief Justice:

¶ 1 In this opinion, we clarify an important procedural rule that has apparently caused some confusion in Utah's lower courts. The issues in this case arise from the State's use of its peremptory challenges to exclude female potential jurors from the jury at the trial of Anthony James Valdez. Valdez objected, arguing that the State's use of its peremptory challenges was unconstitutional under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986).1 However, Valdez did not raise his Batson challenge until after the trial jury had been empaneled and sworn in and the remainder of the venire dismissed. We accepted certiorari to consider whether Valdez's Batson challenge was timely under these circumstances.2

¶ 2 We hold that a Batson challenge is only timely if raised both before the jury is sworn and before the remainder of the venire is excused. Under firmly established Utah law, a Batson challenge is only timely if it is raised before the jury is sworn. We take the opportunity provided by this case to clarify that a Batson objection must also be raised before the venire is dismissed. Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Valdez was prosecuted in district court on five charges: aggravated burglary, aggravated assault, child abuse, possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, and criminal mischief. On October 29, 2002, jury selection for Valdez's trial began. The initial jury venire summoned to the district court consisted of eleven men and fourteen women. The district court removed three men and two women for cause on its own motion and without objection from Valdez or the State. A third woman was excused for cause by Valdez over the State's objection. The State then used all four of its peremptory challenges to remove women from the jury panel; Valdez used all four of his peremptory challenges against men. The jury selected to try the case consisted of four men and four women. Valdez did not object to the State's use of its peremptory strikes at any point during the jury selection process.

¶ 4 After the trial jury had been empaneled, the remainder of the venire was excused from service. The district court judge then swore the jury in, read the information to them, and gave them preliminary instructions. The court then dismissed the jury for lunch, and counsel remained in the courtroom to converse with the judge. After discussing potential jury instructions with counsel, the judge asked whether counsel wanted to address anything else before the court recessed. At that point, Valdez's counsel raised a Batson challenge, arguing that the State's use of its peremptory challenges discriminated on the basis of gender.

¶ 5 In support of his Batson challenge, Valdez argued that a prima facie pattern of discrimination could be found in the State's use of its peremptory challenges to exclude only female jurors from the trial jury. In response, the State argued that Valdez's Batson challenge was untimely because the jury had already been seated and sworn. The district court did not explicitly rule on the timeliness of Valdez's Batson challenge, but stated "notwithstanding that, can you give me a basis to rebut [a] Batson type challenge?" The State then provided gender-neutral explanations for each of its four peremptory challenges. Valdez offered no further argument. The district court ruled that the State's peremptory challenges were gender neutral, related to the case, specific, and legitimate.3 Accordingly, the district court rejected Valdez's Batson challenge.

¶ 6 Valdez's trial proceeded, and he was convicted of aggravated burglary, possession of a dangerous weapon by a restricted person, and criminal mischief. Valdez subsequently appealed the district court's denial of his Batson challenge to the Utah Court of Appeals. On appeal, Valdez also challenged the State's use of evidence regarding Battered Woman Syndrome in his trial on the ground that it was prejudicial.

¶ 7 A panel of the Utah Court of Appeals reversed the district court. The court of appeals noted that a Batson challenge must be timely raised and that standards for timeliness are established by local procedures. State v. Valdez, 2004 UT App 214, ¶ 7, 95 P.3d 291. In determining whether Valdez's Batson challenge was timely under Utah law, the court relied primarily on two of its prior opinions: Salt Lake County v. Carlston, 776 P.2d 653, 655 (Utah Ct.App.1989), and State v. Harrison, 805 P.2d 769, 775-76 (Utah Ct. App.1991).4 Valdez, 2004 UT App 214, ¶¶ 7-10, 95 P.3d 291. While the court of appeals recognized that Carlston had favorably cited other jurisdictions' timeliness rules that bar Batson challenges after the jury has been sworn and the venire dismissed, Valdez, 2004 UT App 214, ¶ 8, 95 P.3d 291 (citing Carlston, 776 P.2d at 655-56), it chose to decide the present case under Harrison, id., ¶¶ 9-10. The court cited Harrison for the proposition that the timeliness of a Batson challenge is governed by rule 18(c)(2) of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure. Id. ¶ 9 (citing Harrison, 805 P.2d at 776). The court of appeals stated that a district court may consider a Batson challenge that is not raised until after the jury is sworn and the venire dismissed if it finds "good cause" under Rule 18(c)(2). Id. ¶¶ 10-11 (citing Harrison, 805 P.2d at 776). The court also stated that if a district court allows counsel to proceed with a Batson argument following a timeliness objection, it "impliedly finds good cause under rule 18." Id. (citing Harrison, 805 P.2d at 776).

¶ 8 Based on this legal framework, the court of appeals held that the district court had impliedly found good cause to allow Valdez's Batson challenge to proceed because it had not explicitly ruled on the State's timeliness objection and had asked the State to rebut Valdez's argument. Id. The court also stated that it could not adopt the rule proposed by the State—that a Batson challenge must be brought before the jury has been sworn and the remainder of the venire dismissed—because the rule was not "`firmly established and regularly followed.'" Id. ¶¶ 8, 11 (quoting Ford v. Georgia, 498 U.S. 411, 423, 111 S.Ct. 850, 112 L.Ed.2d 935 (1991)). According to the court of appeals, "in the absence of any firmer and more established authority on the subject, we could not prevent appellate review of Valdez's constitutional claim due to lack of timeliness."5 Id. ¶ 11.

¶ 9 After ruling on the timeliness issue, the court of appeals proceeded to address the merits of Valdez's Batson challenge. Id. ¶¶ 12-30. Applying an abuse of discretion standard of review, id. ¶ 17, the court held that most of the proffered justifications for the State's strikes were not clear and specific and lacked a relationship to the case being tried, id. ¶¶ 26-28. The court of appeals therefore ruled that the district court had abused its discretion by rejecting Valdez's Batson challenge and reversed and remanded for a new trial. Id. ¶¶ 30-31. Because the court found the denial of Valdez's Batson challenge dispositive, it did not reach Valdez's arguments regarding the admissibility of the Battered Woman Syndrome evidence introduced by the State at trial. Id. ¶ 17 n. 2.

¶ 10 The State petitioned this court for certiorari to review the decision of the court of appeals. We granted certiorari and have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code section 78-2-2(3)(a) (2002).

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 11 On certiorari, "we review the decision of the court of appeals, and not that of the district court." State v. Hansen, 2002 UT 125, ¶ 25, 63 P.3d 650 (citation omitted). Whether Valdez's Batson challenge was timely raised is a question of law. We review questions of law for correctness, granting no deference to the legal conclusions of the court of appeals. Thomas v. Color Country Mgmt., 2004 UT 12, ¶ 9, 84 P.3d 1201.

ANALYSIS

¶ 12 We granted certiorari on two issues: (1) whether a Batson challenge may be deemed timely if the jury has been sworn and the remainder of the venire excused; and (2) whether the court of appeals applied the correct criteria for a Batson analysis and the correct standard of review on appeal. Because we hold that Valdez's Batson challenge was not timely, we do not reach the second issue, and therefore express no views on the criteria and standard of review applied by the court of appeals for Batson challenges.6 Accordingly, our analysis is confined to a discussion of when a Batson challenge must be raised in order to be considered timely under Utah law.

A BATSON CHALLENGE MUST BE RAISED BEFORE THE JURY IS SWORN AND BEFORE THE REMAINDER OF THE VENIRE IS DISMISSED IN ORDER TO BE TIMELY UNDER UTAH LAW

¶ 13 Before addressing Utah law regarding the timeliness of Batson challenges, we discuss the history of Batson challenges in order to provide context for our holding. The United States Supreme Court has long held that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits purposeful racial discrimination in the selection of jurors. See Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 309, 25 L.Ed. 664 (1880); Martin v. Texas, 200 U.S. 316, 319, 26 S.Ct. 338, 50 L.Ed. 497 (1906). The Court first applied this principle in the context of peremptory challenges in Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 85 S.Ct. 824, 13 L.Ed.2d 759 (1965). In Swain, the Court held that it was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause for a prosecutor to purposefully use peremptory challenges to exclude African...

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1 books & journal articles
  • Raising a Successful Batson Challenge in Jury Selection
    • United States
    • Utah State Bar Utah Bar Journal No. 23-6, December 2010
    • Invalid date
    ...trial judge must ultimately consider all relevant circumstances before drawing an inference of discriminatory intent. See State v. Valdez, 2006 UT 39, ¶ 15 n.9, 140 P.3d 1219 ("The Supreme Court has consistently declined to specify what type of evidence the challenging party must offer to e......

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