Sole Black Juror Cut as Prospective Juror – Results in New Trial

October 2, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Motions for a new trial can often be granted by a judge for a variety of reasons. One of these reasons can be improperly dismissing jurors for impermissible reasons, like race, gender, or nationality.

We will cover a recent case in which the judge had to grant a new trial for improperly passing over a potential juror due to race.

What was the Case?

In January 2020, Darryn Lake was arrested for an armed robbery that took place in December. Police first arrested Kenvonte Daniel shortly after the crime took place in Ocala.

The Ocala Police Department responded to a call at the 1700 block of Southwest Fifth Street after a shooting was reported. The victim told the authorities he had been at Daniel’s home when another man (Lake) came up and pointed a gun at him.

Lake took the victim’s wallet and then instructed Daniel to check inside the victim’s vehicle. Daniel took a bag from inside the car and placed it inside his pocket.

While Lake was distracted, the victim took out his own gun and fired one shot into the ground to scare the two men. Daniel and Lake took off as the victim got into his vehicle and drove away.

Officers later found Daniel, who admitted to a detective that he knew the victim was being robbed but denied touching the car. Months later Lake was identified as the gunman and arrested.

Motion for New Trial

In the case’s newest update, Lake has been granted a new trial after a judge ruled that there was a racial motive in passing over the only Black potential juror in the pool of potential jurors.

Lake’s sentencing was set for September 20th; however, the defense filed a motion for a new trial before that date. In the motion, Lake’s attorney, James Smith, said that the 19-year-old Black man who was listed as a potential juror “did not disclose any information that provided the basis for a challenge for cause.” When it was time for the peremptory challenges, the “State used a peremptory challenge on this juror,” the motion stated.

Smith requested an analysis using legal precedent for the matter. The defense attorney claimed the prosecution “offered as a race-neutral basis the fact that the potential juror attended the same high school as the defendant and could potentially be swayed by the fact that Mr. Lake was a high school football star,” he wrote in the motion.

Smith said there was another potential juror who they were going to strike for the same reason. The other potential juror was not Black but was a racial minority. Additionally, Smith noticed that the White potential jurors were not given the same in-depth questions.

Once the trial was set to begin, Lake was facing an all-White jury. Circuit Judge Peter Brigham announced the ruling for a new trial due to the issue, which was greeted with applause from Lake’s family and friends.

“Unfortunately, what happened in this case is a prosecutor, not in bad faith, in striking two jurors, violated my client’s rights, and the judge agreed,” Smith said. As of now, 24-year-old Lake remains in custody in the Marion County Jail pending his new trial.  

Jury Selection in Florida

Jury selection is covered in Chapter 913 of the Florida Statutes.

Jurors may be excused in one of two ways – for cause or due to a peremptory challenge.

During voir dire, or the questioning of potential jurors by the attorneys on record, a juror might reveal that they have personal ties to, knowledge about, or specific sympathies regarding the case that might make it unfair or impossible for the juror to decide the matter impartially. A juror who is found to be biased or prejudiced will generally be excused due to a challenge for cause. Challenges for cause are unlimited.

The second type of challenge is a peremptory challenge. A peremptory challenge is when a potential juror is excluded from being on the jury without the need for any explanation or reason. This can happen unless the opposing party claims a prima facie argument that the challenge was used to discriminate on race, ethnicity, or sex. The state and defendant are allowed the following number of peremptory challenges:

  • 10 for capital or life offenses
  • 6 for offenses punishable by one or more years in jail
  • 3 for all other offenses
  • If two or more defendants are tried jointly, each defendant will be allowed the number of peremptory challenges specified in this section and the state will be allowed as many challenges as are allowed to all of the defendants.

Impermissible Peremptory Challenges

Parties generally do not need to justify their use of a peremptory challenge. But, when a party uses a peremptory challenge in a way that could be seen as discriminatory against a protected class, the other attorney may object and initiate a Neil inquiry.

A Neil inquiry is named after the landmark case on the matter of evaluating whether a peremptory challenge is discriminatory – State v. Neil. As put forth in Melbourne v. State, there is a three-step inquiry to be used in determining whether a discriminatory animus was present. If the court fails to abide by each of the three steps, a new trial will be ordered. The steps are:

  1. Objection! The party must make a timely objection to the use of the peremptory challenge, show that the juror is a member of a protected class, and request that the other side give a race-neutral explanation for the challenge.
  2. Now, the burden shifts and the trial court must ask the proponent of the peremptory challenge to provide a race-neutral explanation. This explanation must show that there is no discriminatory intent. If this cannot be proven, the peremptory challenge must be denied.
  3. Finally, the trial court decides whether the explanation given is genuine. The court can determine this by analyzing relevant factors, like the racial makeup of the jury, prior strikes used against the same protected class, if the reason could apply to other jurors who were not challenged, etc.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida  

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, your first step should be to find an experienced defense attorney in your area. Building a strong defense for your case is our top priority, and a skilled attorney will help you navigate the legal world. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients across the state for various criminal charges. Call us for a free consultation today at (850) 681-7777 or leave us an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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