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staff reporter Trial judges in Minnesota are being second-guessed when it comes to jury selection. After years of letting trial judges reign over the issue, the Minnesota Supreme Court for the first time reversed a conviction after finding that a lower court had improperly allowed an African-American woman to serve on the jury. The case, State v. Reiners, No. C7-01-1001 (2001), has another unique twist in that a white defendant used Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), to challenge the trial court’s decision to include the African-American juror. Batson is typically invoked by African-American defendants who oppose a prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to exclude minorities from the jury. A decision to prohibit defendants from engaging in discriminatory strikes was also handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992). Minnesota is no stranger to the issue. In 14 cases where the prosecution raised a Batson claim, the state Supreme Court deferred to the trial court’s peremptory challenge analysis. But not this time. The high court held that Reiners was automatically entitled to a new trial because “the court’s determination that the prospective juror could be fair to Reiners was irrelevant to the Batson analysis.” Deference, the court stated, “does not extend to fact findings that have no evidentiary support or legal conclusions that were arrived at by applying the incorrect legal standard.” The ruling triggered a sharp dissent from Justice Alan Page, the only minority on the court, who charged that the case reveals an “extremely troublesome trend emerging from this court, one that evinces a hostility toward jurors of color.” In all 14 prior cases, the court upheld the exclusion of minority jurors. Carl J. Reiners, owner of a structural-steel fabrication company who leased a part of his warehouse to a business called Keystar, was indicted for first-degree assault for allegedly hitting Jose Padilla, a Spanish-speaking Keystar employee, with a board. During voir dire, Reiners, who is white, wanted to remove an African- American from the jury because she had had substantial exposure to the police as the daughter of a police officer and former trainee at the police academy. The Hennepin County district court judge overrode his peremptory challenge, and Reiners was convicted and sentenced to 91 months in prison. According to Reiners’ defense counsel, Robert Sicoli of Minneapolis’ Thompson, Sicoli & Aho, the heightened scrutiny will benefit the prosecution and defense by forcing trial courts to adhere strictly to the Batson test. “In practice, a lot of times judges will sort of wrap together different parts of the test,” he noted. “With this decision, the test will be followed a lot now.” Firsthand demeanor Amy Klobuchar, the Hennepin County Attorney whose office tried Reiners, disagrees. While the appellate court has only the cold record to guide them, “the trial court judge saw firsthand the demeanor of the jurors and the attorneys, and made a decision to the best of his ability.” Klobuchar, who considers the case a hate crime, said that “at the very least, they should not have overturned the conviction.” According to the 1993 Minnesota Racial Bias Task Force Report, Hennepin County has one of the state’s highest percentages of people of color, at 11%. But since 1968, approximately 6% of the petit jurors there have been minorities. Susan MacPhearson, a trial consultant with the National Jury Project in Minnesota, believes that although peremptory challenges are “useful in limited quantities, it creates opportunities for misuse.” She believes corruption in the jury selection process is part of a “much longer and complicated problem that needs to be backed up by systemic changes.” The key to diversity lies in the summons and notifications process, she said. “If African-Americans are not showing up in proportion to the population to begin with, we need to work to improve the initial process,” she said. Song’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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