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Childress v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

March 16, 2018

Steven Wade Childress, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

         Appeal from the Madison Circuit Court Trial Court Cause No. 48C04-1601-F3-191 The Honorable David A. Happe, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Anthony C. Lawrence Anderson, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General of Indiana Katherine Cooper Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Crone, Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Steven Wade Childress appeals his conviction for level 3 felony armed robbery. He argues that the trial court clearly erred in rejecting his claim, commonly known as a Batson claim, that the prosecutor's peremptory challenge to a potential juror was improperly based on the juror's race. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] In October 2015, Childress and Demerio Strong went to a party at T.B.'s house. Childress and Strong discussed committing a robbery. T.B. texted Darren Sloss that his cousin was at her house and he should come over. Sloss drove to T.B.'s and parked behind her house. When Sloss went in the house, he did not see his cousin and decided to leave. He exited the house and was attacked outside by Childress and Strong. Strong held a gun to the back of his head and forced him to the ground. Childress and Strong asked him for money. While he was on the ground, Sloss saw Childress rummaging around his car. Sloss was kicked, punched, and pistol-whipped. Some of his clothing was ripped off. Several women came outside, prompting Childress and Strong to run away. Sloss walked to a hospital and reported the robbery. Police found his clothes and wallet behind T.B.'s house, but the money in his wallet, about $200, was gone.

         [¶3] In January 2016, the State charged Childress with level 3 felony armed robbery. In May 2017, a jury trial was held. During voir dire, the prosecutor questioned the potential jurors at length regarding their understanding of reasonable doubt. When the venire was passed to defense counsel, he also questioned the potential jurors about the burden of proof. When defense counsel's questioning was finished, the parties presented the trial court with their for cause and peremptory challenges. The State sought to exercise one of its peremptory challenges to strike Potential Juror 8. Childress raised a Batson claim, noting that two African-American jurors had been excused for cause by agreement of the parties but Potential Juror 8 was the only remaining African-American juror. Tr. Vol. 2 at 166. The prosecutor responded,

When defense was doing his questioning at the end and he said what is your definition of reasonable doubt and the first thing out of [Potential Juror 8's] mouth was no doubt. That in fact is too high of a burden. When he was questioned by [the prosecutor] on the different (indiscernible-paper rustling) with the witness a lot of the things that were going back and forth, but the main concern was when he said what is reasonable doubt and his actual comment was a hundred percent, no, a hundred percent. And his answer was no doubt. It was that statement that we struck that was most (indiscernible).

Id. at 166-67 (emphases added). Defense counsel countered, "I don't think a single answer should be the basis for it. I think [], (indiscernible-paper rustling) factual situation in which we have primarily [] black individuals, witnesses, [] the accused, [] and for that reason we think that [Potential Juror 8] who is African-American should remain on the jury." Id. at 167. The trial court noted that at the outset Potential Juror 2 answered "a hundred percent." Id. The prosecutor explained,

[Potential Juror 2] was a hundred percent, you're correct; however, then that was the first answer when the definition was given and then she came around and later said, no, it doesn't have to be a hundred percent. She said I understand after definitions had been given. That's when [Potential Juror 8] said no doubt, and he never came back from that. So, at this point (indiscernible-coughing).

Id. (emphasis added). Defense counsel stated that Potential Juror 8 was not questioned about his answer any further. Id. The trial court responded,

[I]t's different than a cause challenge. [There] doesn't have to be an opportunity to rehabilitate or respond to what they say. The question is is there an independent (indiscernible-coughing) factor that would support a good faith basis to exercise a peremptory. And here [] I think frankly it's a closer call than we usually see on these challenges, but I think there is a distinction to be drawn between the answer between Potential Juror 2 and No. 8 and the timing. So, ...

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