Jury box
(Jason Doiy)

A federal appeals court ordered a Boston federal judge to hold an evidentiary hearing into whether a Massachusetts state prosecutor’s exclusion of three young black men from a jury was unconstitutional.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit vacated U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV’s February 2013 denial of Dagoberto Sanchez’s habeas corpus petition. The First Circuit remanded Sanchez v. Roden in light of the 1986 U.S. Supreme Court’s precedent in Batson v. Kentucky.

The Batson court held that striking even one juror for a discriminatory reason was unconstitutional.

The First Circuit ordered Saylor to review whether the state court met the second and third of Batson’s three-part test for evaluating juror eliminations. Batson first requires the trial court to “consider all relevant circumstances” in determining whether the defendant has shown discrimination on its face. Next, the state must give a neutral explanation of its actions. Finally, the judge must decide whether the defendant has proved “purposeful discrimination.”

“By erroneously ignoring each individual juror’s equal protection right not to be discriminated against, the [Massachusetts Appeals Court] reached a result that has the effect of fostering increased racial discrimination and immunizing it from judicial review. This is diametrically opposed to Batson‘s raison d’être,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote.

Judge Jeffrey Howard and Seventh Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple, who sat by designation, joined her.

The panel relied on Ninth and Eleventh Circuit case law to send the case to district court instead of state court. Thompson also cited a California Supreme Court ruling providing for a retrial if a judge finds discrimination or is dissatisfied with the state’s explanation.

Sanchez was convicted in 2006 for second-degree murder and a gun charge. He was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 15 years. The state judge allowed the prosecutor to exclude three young black men and seat a white male college student.

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed Sanchez’s conviction in April 2011. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and the U.S. Supreme Court each declined to review the case.

The state has argued that the jury was racially balanced and included other black jurors, and that youth is “not a protected class.”

Sanchez’s lawyer, Ruth Greenberg, a solo practitioner from Swampscott, Mass., said the First Circuit “recognized that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees each individual prospective juror a right to serve—and that prospective juror’s right is violated if he is not permitted to serve, no matter what the jury looks like as a group.”

State Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office declined to comment. Assistant state attorney general Thomas Bocian argued for the state.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.