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Whitfield v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

June 26, 2019

Antonio R. Whitfield, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff

          Appeal from the Marion Superior Court The Honorable Stanley E. Kroh, Magistrate Trial Court Cause No. 49G03-1802-F5-5109

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Timothy J. O'Connor O'Connor & Auersch Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Curtis T. Hill, Jr. Attorney General Chandra K. Hein Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          CRONE, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Antonio R. Whitfield appeals his conviction for level 5 felony burglary following a jury trial. He contends that the trial court clearly erred in determining that he failed to demonstrate that the State's peremptory challenge to a venireperson was based on her race in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Finding no error, we affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On February 10, 2018, around 5:00 a.m., David Marroquin heard a loud noise outside his home and looked outside. He saw a man wearing what looked like a ski mask entering the house under construction next door, and he called 911. Police officers arrived at the house and discovered that the home's rear screen door was cut and partially opened, the doorframe was damaged, and the interior door was partially opened. Police and a canine unit entered the house and announced their presence with no response. They found some boxes near the back door, a crowbar near the stairs, and Whitfield in the exposed rafters of the second floor.

         [¶3] Police arrested Whitfield and requested that the construction superintendent report to the house. When he arrived, he told police that he was the only person with a key to the house and that he had locked up the house the previous evening around 6:00 p.m. When he locked up, the screen door had been intact, and the door frame had been undamaged. He also stated that there had been three unopened boxes of mosaic title, worth $500 to $600, by the front door, but those boxes were now by the back door and one box had been partially opened. Finally, he said that there had not been a crowbar in the house.

         [¶4] In February 2018, the State charged Whitfield with level 5 felony burglary, level 6 felony theft, and class B misdemeanor criminal mischief. The State later moved to dismiss the theft charge, which the trial court granted. In addition, the State amended the charging information to include a habitual offender enhancement.

         [¶5] On August 23, 2018, Whitfield's jury trial commenced. During jury selection, fourteen members of the jury pool were empaneled for questioning. L.M. was the sole African American on the panel. On her juror questionnaire, L.M. wrote that she was "[n]ot sure" that she could be a fair and impartial juror in a criminal trial and explained that she had "a low expectation of minorities receiving justice in [the] American Court System." Appellant's Supp. App. Vol. 2 at 3. She also wrote that she had family members who had been arrested for or charged with a crime. During voir dire, the trial court asked L.M. about the juror questionnaire and whether she believed that minorities were not always treated fairly by the system, and she answered, "Yes." Tr. Vol. 2 at 37. The prosecutor asked L.M. whether she could be fair and impartial today, and she said, "Yes." Id. The prosecutor also asked her whether, if the State presented evidence that firmly convinced her of the defendant's guilt, she would be able to find the defendant guilty, and she responded affirmatively. Id. During defense counsel's voir dire, L.M. indicated that she wanted to ask a question about the meaning of reasonable doubt. Id. at 40-41. She asked whether reasonable doubt meant that "there's no doubt that somebody else had the same opportunity to commit the crime that the person is accused of." Id. at 41. Defense counsel explained that "if you have reasonable doubt remaining that this person could not have done the thing then you have to - you're obligated to find him not guilty." Id. However, L.M. indicated that defense counsel had not answered her question. Id. Defense counsel later re-questioned L.M. about the meaning of reasonable doubt. After some discussion, she eventually said, "I guess if they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this person did this, then, yes - … - I'd find him guilty." Id. at 53-54 (defense counsel's one-word interruption omitted).

         [¶6] During the first round of strikes, the State sought to peremptorily strike L.M. Id. at 55. Whitfield raised a Batson claim;[1] that is, he objected that the prosecution was using a peremptory strike to remove L.M. on account of her race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. Id. The trial court stated that a prima facie showing of racial discrimination had been made given that L.M. was the only minority on the fourteen-person panel. The trial court then asked the State whether it wanted to make a record of its reasons for its peremptory strike of L.M. In support of the strike, the prosecutor said that there were "a handful or reasons": (1) L.M. wrote on her juror questionnaire that "basically she couldn't be fair and impartial" and had "a low expectation of minorities receiving justice in the court system[, ]" which evidenced a bias against the State; (2) she also wrote that she had family members who had been arrested for or charged with a crime; (3) during voir dire, L.M. seemed "unclear on her ability to be fair and impartial and seemed to waiver [sic] significantly about whether she could find guilt even if the elements were proven beyond a reasonable doubt"; (4) based on her interaction with the prosecutor, she did not seem to want to be in court; (5) she did not seem to be interactive with the prosecutor and was more interactive with defense counsel; and (6) the prosecutor "didn't get a good vibe from her based on what she was saying." Id. at 55-57.

         [¶7] The trial court then asked whether defense counsel would like to respond. Whitfield's counsel argued that it was unfair to strike black persons for thinking that the court system was unfair because they have a good reason to think that the system is unfair, and if such a reason was accepted, then black jurors would be disproportionately struck. Id. at 57. Defense counsel also argued that L.M.'s body language was no different than that of a white venireperson, and in defense counsel's opinion, neither venireperson demonstrated an unwillingness to be in court. Id. at 57-58. Further, defense counsel noted that L.M. answered that she could be impartial and render a guilty verdict if the State met its burden of proof. Id. at 58.

         [¶8] The trial ...

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