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Judge must explain genuineness ruling

December 6, 2012 Articles No Comments

When the defense objects to the state’s use of a peremptory challenge and the state proffers a reason, the court errs in merely sustaining the strike without providing some explanation why it finds the reason genuine, the Fourth DCA held December 5. Cook v. S., __ So. 3d __, 37 F.L.W. D2792 (4th DCA 12/5/2012).

The state struck an African-American woman from the jury panel and the defense objected, asking for an explanation and pointing out the juror’s race. “She’s a nurse,” replied the prosecutor. “I would ask that the State explain why being a nurse is — would make her unfit to be a juror on this case or have any bearing at all on whether she could be a juror,” said the defense attorney, to which the prosecutor replied, “I don’t have to explain that to you. She’s a nurse. I don’t want a nurse on my panel. It’s a race-neutral reason. It’s not one of the protected classes. It’s a valid reason.” The court allowed the strike.

The Fourth reversed, finding that the court’s act of merely sustaining the strike without indicating that it did a genuineness evaluation violated the requirements of Melbourne v. State, 679 So. 2d 759, 764 (Fla. 1996).

As to prospective juror 9, step one occurred when appellant objected and asked the state for a race-neutral reason. Step two occurred, as the burden shifted to the state to articulate a race-neutral reason for the peremptory strike of juror 9. At this point, the state replied by stating that the race-neutral reason for the strike was because “she’s a nurse.” “[T]he defendant, as the opponent of the strike, carrie[d] the burden of persuasion to demonstrate purposeful discrimination and [had to] overcome the presumption that the State’s strike was exercised in a nondiscriminatory manner.” Id. at 462 n.6. In the present case, appellant met this burden by asking “the state [to] explain why being a nurse is — would make her unfit to be a juror on this case or have any bearing at all on whether she could be a juror.”

The record does not state why being a nurse could satisfy the genuineness prong of step three. For example, during voir dire, the state did not question juror 9 “regarding the effect her employment might have upon her ability to fulfill jury duty.” Mayes v. State, 550 So. 2d 496, 498 (Fla. 4th DCA 1989).1 As stated in Hernandez v. State, 686 So. 2d 735, 736 (Fla. 2d DCA 1997):
[A] mere recitation of a juror’s occupation in many cases would not be sufficient to state a facially race-neutral reason. Because almost every potential juror works, either in the home or outside the home, there is a real risk that occupation could be used pretextually as a “facially” race-neutral reason to strike practically any juror.

In response to appellant’s request that the state explain the connection between juror 9′s occupation as a nurse and her ability to serve, the state asserted that it did not “have to explain that to [appellant].” At this point, step three, the trial court was required to determine whether the state’s explanation was a pretext when considering all the circumstances, and to determine if the state’s explanation was genuine. Since the trial court did not articulate any analysis on the record, and merely summarily “sustain[ed] the strike” of the state, we find that the trial court did not conduct the genuineness analysis of step three, as required by Melbourne.

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