Rejecting an attorney-work-product claim, the Supreme Court today in People v. Superior Court (Jones) upholds a death row inmate’s right to review a prosecutor’s jury selection notes.  The notes are relevant to the inmate’s claim that the prosecutor used racially motivated peremptory challenges of potential jurors in violation of the Batson and Wheeler cases.  The court says that assessing an attorney’s motivation “is often a sensitive and challenging inquiry” and that “jury selection notes may be relevant to the inquiry even when they do not contain a smoking gun.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Leondra Kruger is signed by just six justices because Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar left the court a month ago, after he had participated in the case’s oral argument.  (See here.)

The court holds that, by relying in the superior court on an undisclosed juror rating system to justify his peremptory challenges, the prosecutor “put[ ] the rating system at issue” and thus “impliedly waived any claim of work product protection over notes containing information about the system.”

The discovery is for a habeas corpus petition.  Eight years ago, the court rejected the direct automatic appeal of the inmate’s death sentence.  (People v. Jones (2013) 57 Cal.4th 899.)  Justice Goodwin Liu filed concurring opinions in Jones and in two other death penalty decisions rendered the same day; one concurrence criticized the court’s “Batson jurisprudence . . . [as] noticeably out of step with principles set forth by the United States Supreme Court.”

In its opinion, the court flags an open issue for future resolution:  whether the superior court’s waiver ruling should be reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard or as one raising mixed questions of law and fact subject to independent review on appeal.  The court doesn’t resolve the issue because the parties didn’t brief it and because the court’s decision would be the same under either standard.

The court affirms the Fourth District, Division One, Court of Appeal.


Supreme Court affirms death penalty, with a Batson dissent

Three votes for review and a Justice Liu dissenting statement in Batson case

Discriminatory jury selection causes Ninth Circuit to vacate death sentence the Supreme Court affirmed 32 years ago

Former Justice Werdegar named to work group studying discriminatory jury selection practices