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Sanchez v. Silva

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 15, 2018

RUBEN SANCHEZ, Petitioner,
v.
STEVEN SILVA et al., Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR HABEAS CORPUS (DOC. NO. 1)

          LEO T. SOROKIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Ruben Sanchez, a prisoner at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he alleges a violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The respondents have opposed the petition. Because his claim is meritless, Sanchez's petition is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In July 2011, following a jury trial in Suffolk County Superior Court, Sanchez was convicted of second-degree murder, unlawful possession of a firearm, and carrying a loaded firearm, all in violation of Massachusetts law. Doc. No. 1 at 2-3;[1] S.A. at 1-2, 8-9.[2] He was charged and tried along with two co-defendants, both of whom also were convicted of gun-related offenses. Commonwealth v. Brea, 32 N.E.3d 369 (table), 2015 WL 3755894, at *1 & n.2 (Mass. App. Ct. June 17, 2015); Doc. No. 17 at 1-2; Doc. No. 20 at 3. Sanchez received a life sentence. Doc. No. 1 at 1; S.A. at 9.

         The charges against Sanchez arose from a shooting in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood. See Doc. No. 20 at 4-5 (summarizing the trial evidence). Because Sanchez's sole claim relates to the selection of his jury, the Court need not detail the evidence offered to prove Sanchez's guilt at trial. Instead, the focus here is on the two-day jury empanelment process in this case.

         Sanchez and both of his co-defendants are Hispanic. Doc. No. 17 at 4; Jury Trial Tr. Vol. I at 10, Commonwealth v. Brea, Nos. 2009-11130, -11131, -11132 (Mass. Super. Ct. Suffolk Cty. June 9, 2011) (CD on file with the Court) [hereinafter “Trial Tr. I”].

         The jury selection process used by the trial court was not unusual. The trial judge first spoke to the entire venire and asked general questions aimed at revealing certain obvious biases. Individual jurors then came to sidebar for further questioning, including follow-up on their responses to the group questioning and additional inquiries proposed by the parties. After each individual voir dire, the prospective juror was either excused for cause, subject to a peremptory strike by one of the parties (such strikes were exercised on a rolling basis), or seated on the jury. See Doc. No. 20 at 6 (outlining the process and citing relevant portions of the transcript); see generally Trial Tr. I; Jury Trial Tr. Vol. II, Commonwealth v. Brea, Nos. 2009-11130, -11131, -11132 (Mass. Super. Ct. Suffolk Cty. June 10, 2011) (CD on file with the Court) [hereinafter “Trial Tr. II”].

         The process began on June 9, 2011. The first juror to be seated was a 25-year-old black male with a college degree and a temporary job in accounting. Trial Tr. I at 68-72, 76. The prosecutor exercised her first peremptory strike against a 19-year-old black male who had completed one year of community college. Id. at 87-92. The second juror to be seated was a 35- year-old white male who worked as a valet service supervisor. Id. at 109-16. The prosecutor exercised her second peremptory strike against a white male who was about to begin medical school. Id. at 132-36.

         When the prosecutor exercised her third peremptory strike against a 19-year-old Hispanic male who had completed one year at Brandeis University, defense counsel raised an objection pursuant to Commonwealth v. Soares, 387 N.E.2d 499 (Mass. 1979), [3] citing the prosecutor's use of two peremptory strikes to remove young men “from the minority community.” Trial Tr. I at 144-47. The trial judge noted that “two can certainly make a pattern, ” and required the prosecutor to state a neutral reason for her challenge. Id. at 147-48. The prosecutor cited the prospective juror's youth, explaining that the case would involve “extensive witnesses as well as scientific evidence.” Id. at 148. After hearing further argument from the parties regarding the stated reason, the trial judge credited the prosecutor's explanation as “genuine, ” noted his own belief that exercising strikes based on age is “troublesome, ” but acknowledged that age is not an area subject to the protections of Soares, and therefore found the stated reason “adequate” and permitted the challenge. Id. at 148-51. This is one of two strikes that Sanchez cites as a basis for the Batson claim he presents to this Court; for purposes of this decision, the Court will refer to this as “the Salazar strike” (using the challenged juror's surname).

         Thereafter, a 22-year-old Hispanic female with a ninth-grade education was seated, id. at 162-68, but was excused for cause the following day after notifying the court that she would be unable to arrange care for her two small children, Trial Tr. II at 3-4. A 48-year-old white male manager of a nonprofit was chosen for the jury next. Trial Tr. I at 172-80, 250. Then, a 19-year-old male who had completed one year at Northeastern University was initially seated, but was later excused based on difficulty arranging and paying for commutes into Boston for the duration of the trial.[4] Id. at 180-88, 218. A 23-year-old Hispanic male with a college degree who planned to attend law school was seated, id. at 205-10, and the prosecutor used a peremptory strike to remove a female security guard who had formerly worked as a legal assistant to a criminal defense attorney, id. at 212-18.

         The prosecutor exercised another peremptory strike against an 18-year-old Hispanic female who had just completed high school and was headed to college that fall. Id. at 243-47. Correctly anticipating that defense counsel would object again under Soares, the prosecutor preemptively invoked the same neutral justification for this strike-the prospective juror's youth. Id. at 247. Argument by the parties ensued, and the trial judge observed an apparent “pattern grounded on age” that he found “troubling, ” but which was “not a forbidden zone, such as religion, gender, race and the like.” Id. at 248-49. The trial judge again found the prosecutor's stated reason “genuine” and sustained the strike, after considering that three of the prosecutor's five peremptory strikes had been used against members of minority communities and also canvassing the races and genders of the jurors already seated. Id. at 249-51. This is the second strike that Sanchez cites as a basis for his Batson claim in this Court; for purposes of this decision, the Court will refer to it as “the Ortiz strike” (using the challenged juror's surname).

         The first day of empanelment ended with the seating of a 19-year-old female high-school graduate who the Court surmises was of Egyptian descent. See id. at 252-59 (reflecting juror's last name was Abdelaal); Brea, 2015 WL 3755894, at *2 (describing “the final jury” at Sanchez's trial has including “one [person] who was Egyptian”). One defense counsel suggested the genuineness of the reason cited by the prosecutor to explain the Salazar and Ortiz strikes was undermined by her failure to strike this similarly youthful juror. Trial Tr. I at 257. The trial judge again lamented the arbitrariness that peremptory challenges inject into jury selection, but reiterated that “one [need not] behave . . . consistently in order to exercise peremptories lawfully.” Id. at 257-58.

         Empanelment continued the following day. A 37-year-old female from Cape Verde who ran a daycare and a 40-year-old female with a master's degree in Latin American studies were seated. Trial Tr. II at 4-10, 40-46. The prosecutor used a peremptory strike to remove a Russian-born female working toward a Ph.D. in biology at Harvard. Id. at 16-22, 46-48. A 45-year-old Salvadorian male who worked as a truck driver and a 59-year-old female nurse were seated. Id. at 49-53, 94-100. The prosecutor used a peremptory strike to remove a female who worked at State Street Bank and lived in the neighborhood where the crime happened, referenced a concern that “something like this can happen” there, and expressed some uncertainty about arranging care for her school-aged son. Id. at 102-10.

         When the prosecutor used another peremptory strike to remove a black female teacher with brothers who had been convicted of crimes, defense counsel raised another Soares objection, citing a pattern of striking “minority females.” Id. at 126-35. The trial judge found “a current pattern in terms of race or ethnicity” after confirming that the prosecutor had exercised five consecutive strikes against women, and had used five of its eight peremptory challenges against members of minority communities. Id. at 135-36. The prosecutor justified her challenge by pointing to the fact that one of the prospective juror's brothers had been convicted of murder in Suffolk County, an explanation the trial judge found was genuine and adequate. Id. at 136-37.

         A 31-year-old male college graduate with a job at an investment firm was seated next. Id. at 138-42. After counsel for one of Sanchez's co-defendants used a peremptory strike against a white female, the trial judge sua sponte inquired about the characteristics of the prospective jurors he had challenged. Id. at 149-50. Upon learning he had removed one Hispanic male, two black females, and one white female, the trial judge said that defendant was “getting close on a gender thing” but found no “pattern at this time.”[5] Id. at 150-51.

         Selection proceeded with the seating of a 62-year-old female originally from St. Lucia. Id. at 153-64. She was followed by a 55-year-old female audiologist, a female student about to start her senior year in college, [6] and a 41-year-old female deaf interpreter, all of whom were seated. Id. at 173-82, 187-94, 200-06. Next, the prosecutor used peremptory strikes to remove an unemployed former medical assistant with a restraining order against her ex-boyfriend and a woman working in public relations while attending college. Id. at 206-09, 211-16. When the prosecutor challenged the latter of these women, defense counsel objected under Soares, citing a pattern of seven consecutive strikes used against women. Id. at 216-17. The trial judge found that such a pattern had been established and required the prosecutor to state a neutral reason for the relevant strike. Id. at 217-18. The prosecutor pointed to an out-of-state conviction for driving under the influence, and the fact that the juror's age at the time of the offense suggested underage drinking. Id. at 218. Again, the trial judge found the prosecutor's stated reason was genuine and, though he viewed it as “leaning towards the margin, ” he concluded it was not “inadequate” and therefore permitted the challenge. Id.

         The prosecutor used another peremptory strike to remove a male prospective juror who expressed strong support for gun rights. Id. at 247-54. After a 31-year-old female who worked at Panera, had attended college, and said her brother was awaiting trial on gun charges was seated, the prosecutor used a peremptory strike against a male prospective juror who was living with his parents ...


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