Texas Courts of Appeals
No. 14-12-00515-CR 10/1/13
Should the trial court have granted the defendant’s Batson challenge because the State’s race-neutral reason for striking an African-American veniremember was not also used to strike non-African-American veniremembers?
Yes. The State’s purported reason for the strike – that the veniremember gave law enforcement a low ranking on a scale of one to 10 – was facially race-neutral. However, three non-African-American veniremembers who ultimately served on the jury also gave law enforcement low rankings.
It is always so tough to lose a Batson case, but this decision is very thorough and very well-researched. It would prove difficult to get overturned on petition for discretionary review. If you rely upon a reason to exercise a peremptory challenge, make sure that the particular reason has been used uniformly across the board to all of the prospective jurors. If that is not the case, explain why. If you do not, the defense (with time and access to all of the appellate record) and the court of appeals will be able to dissect your reasoning, as was done in this opinion.
No. 04-12-00341-CR 10/2/13
Was the defendant entitled to reinstatement of the State’s original 10-year plea offer because trial counsel was ineffective during both the plea bargaining process and trial?
Yes. Applying the three factors from Lafler v. Cooper, 132 S. Ct. 1376 (2012), it is clear the defendant was prejudiced because: 1) the defendant probably would have accepted the offer with effective counsel; 2) nothing indicates the State would have withdrawn the offer; and 3) although the trial court rejected this offer, she was not acting in a neutral manner when she did so. The offer must be reinstated, but the newly assigned judge retains discretion to accept or reject the plea agreement.
As practical matter, it is questionable how much force and effect this opinion will have if the new judge refuses to accept the initial plea agreement. But as a legal matter, this decision needs to be reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeals, both as to the appellate court’s treatment of the third prong of the test mentioned above and as to the appropriate remedy. I am not necessarily saying that the court of appeals got this wrong, but the highest court needs to weigh in on an issue this important and relatively novel (because the lead U.S. Supreme Court case was decided so recently).