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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Marshall Highler v. State of Indiana, an 8-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Boehm writes:

We hold that the use of a peremptory challenge to strike a juror because of the juror’s race, gender or religious affiliation violates the juror’s right to equal protection of the laws. The juror’s affiliation is to be distinguished from religious beliefs that prevent the juror from follow-ing the law. The juror’s occupation, to the extent it may indicate a predisposition and is not a pretext, is a permissible ground for a peremptory strike. * * *

We agree with the Supreme Court of Missouri’s caution that “trial courts should . . . consider strikes based on occupation carefully, assessing them for pretext by looking at whether the occupation and the claimed traits relate to the particular case or juror, [and] whether similarly situated jurors are treated differently.” State v. Edwards, 116 S.W.3d 511, 528 (Mo. 2003). The trial court’s conclusion that the prosecutor’s reasons were not pretextual is essentially a finding of fact that turns substantially on credibility. It is therefore accorded great deference. Batson, 476 U.S. at 98 n.21. We cannot say it was clearly erroneous. See M-cCants, 686 N.E.2d at 1284; Kent v. State, 675 N.E.2d 332, 340 (Ind. 1996). * * *

Although we agree with the Court of Appeals that strikes based on religious affiliation are impermissible, we believe that Judge Robb was correct in upholding the trial court’s ruling because the State’s justification for striking Juror 92 was not his religious affiliation, but his oc-cupation. Id. at 99 (Robb, J., concurring). As a general proposition, striking a juror because of the juror’s occupation is not unconstitutional. * * * Specifically, peremptorily striking religious leaders from juries because they may be sympathetic to defendants generally has been upheld as constitutional. * * *

Finally, we have addressed the foregoing issues to give guidance to trial courts because the Court of Appeals has addressed them and we believe they are likely to recur. However, Highler’s challenge to the peremptory strike, whether characterized as based on occupation or religion, was waived because he did not object on either ground in the trial court. Highler’s ob-jection to the State’s strike of Juror 92 was based solely on a claim of unconstitutional racial dis-crimination. By failing to identify his objection to the peremptory strike on religious or occupational grounds, Highler failed to preserve these questions for appeal.

Highler raises two other issues. First, he argues that he was denied a trial by a jury of his peers in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and in violation of Indiana Code section 33-28-4-3 (2004) because there was only one African American on the panel of 47 and according to the 2000 U.S. census 17.4 percent of Allen County was African American. The Court of Appeals correctly held that a statistical anomaly in a single venire presents no issue. Highler, 834 N.E.2d at 189 (citing Azania v. State, 778 N.E.2d 1253, 1257 (Ind. 2002)).

Highler also contends that a 9-1-1 tape was erroneously admitted into evidence because its prejudicial effect outweighed any relevance. Highler made no claim that the tape’s admission infringed his confrontation rights under Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004). See also Davis v. Washington, 126 S. Ct. 2266, 2269 (2006) (statements by an alleged victim to a 9-1-1 operator that name her attacker were not “testimonial” because her “primary purpose was to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency”). We summarily affirm the holding of the Court of Appeals on these issues. Indiana Appellate Rule 58(A)(2).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 4, 2006 10:41 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions