The Supreme Court on Monday came up one vote short of granting review in People v. Triplett, a case raising a Batson/Wheeler issue, named after the U.S. and California Supreme Court decisions prohibiting racial discrimination in selecting jurors. How to analyze claimed Batson/Wheeler violations has been dividing an otherwise mostly harmonious court for a number of years.
Justices Goodwin Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, and Leondra Kruger voted to hear the Triplett case. Also, Justice Liu wrote a 21-page dissenting statement, which was signed by Justice Cuéllar but not by Justice Kruger.
In an unpublished portion of a partially published opinion, the Second District, Division One, Court of Appeal rejected the defendant’s Batson/Wheeler claim, which was based on the prosecution’s peremptory challenge of the last African-American prospective juror, a dismissal that left the jury with no African-American members.
Justice Liu’s dissent (now attached at the end of the appellate court’s opinion) says that even though the Legislature and a Supreme Court-appointed jury selection work group are both dealing with Batson issues, he would grant review “[i]n light of mounting concerns about the efficacy of Batson and distrust of law enforcement and the justice system arising from the experiences of Black Americans.” Liu agrees Supreme Court precedent “may support” the appellate court’s ruling, but said that “Batson’s guarantee rings hollow when it is understood to allow prosecutors to strike Black jurors for reasons that systematically function as proxies for the jurors’ race” and that the current approach “is untenable if our justice system is to garner the trust of all groups in our communities and to provide equal justice under law.”
Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye issued her own separate statement, signed by Justices Carol Corrigan and Joshua Groban, but not by Justice Ming Chin, who also didn’t vote for review. Her statement says the jury selection work group is studying “issues [that] are important and worthy of close consideration.” She also cautions the work group not to read anything into the court’s denial of review in Triplett — “It should be understood that neither the court’s denial of review in this case or other cases, nor the views expressed in any separate statement from a denial of review, represent an effort to influence the work group’s deliberations by indicating how a justice or justices would decide any of the issues that may be presented.”
The Chief Justice’s separate statement includes a good practice tip: “A denial of review does not necessarily convey how the court would resolve the issues raised in a petition for review. (See Cal. Rules of Court, rule 8.500(b).) Review may be denied, for example, when issues or facts in the record beyond those emphasized by a petitioner may make a case a poor vehicle through which to resolve the issue(s) presented for review.”
Monday was the very last day for the court to rule on the petition for review. (Rule 8.512(b)(1).) The court normally would have acted at last week’s conference, but the Chief Justice’s and/or Justice Liu’s separate statements might not have been ready to go then.