The Supreme Court today denied review in People v. Coleman, a case raising issues about the California Racial Justice Act (here and here). There were no votes to grant, but Justice Kelli Evans — joined by Justice Goodwin Liu — filed a separate concurring statement “to discuss the proper inquiry under the . . . RJA . . . when a defendant alleges discrimination by their attorney.”

The Legislature said it enacted the RJA in 2020 with “the intent . . . to eliminate racial bias from California’s criminal justice system.”

According to the separate statement, “Coleman, a Black man, claimed his counsel discriminated against him by advising him to ‘speak [E]bonics,’ ‘sound ghetto,’ and ‘talk hood’ when he testified.” In a published opinion, the First District, Division Five, Court of Appeal, found no RJA violation, stating, “A defense attorney’s salient advice to a defendant to speak in his or her own voice when he or she testifies does not indicate bias or animus toward a defendant because of his or her race, ethnicity, or national origin.”

Justice Evans wrote, “Advisements to ‘sound ghetto,’ ‘sound hood,’ and ‘sound like a thug’ are wholly different from general advice that one should testify authentically. These specific terms have deeply racialized and pejorative meanings that are widely known. They are laden with negative stereotypes including associations with heightened criminality, violence, and reduced humanity. In my view, these particular advisements, standing alone, would be sufficient to infer Coleman’s counsel exhibited at least implicit bias.” However, review was not warranted, Evans concluded, because an “underdeveloped record” left it “unclear . . . whether counsel advised Coleman in this exact manner.”

The court has yet to grant review in a RJA case (see here and here), but it might address that legislation in one or two death penalty appeals scheduled for argument next week.