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United States v. Gurry

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 1, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
MICHAEL J. GURRY, RICHARD M. SIMON, SUNRISE LEE, JOSEPH A. ROWAN, and JOHN KAPOOR, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' BATSON CHALLENGES TO THE GOVERNMENT'S PEREMPTORY STRIKES

          ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         During jury selection on January 25, 2019, Defendants Michael J. Gurry, Richard M. Simon, Sunrise Lee, Joseph A. Rowan, and John Kapoor (collectively, “Defendants”) challenged two of the Government's peremptory strikes under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). For the reasons stated below, which are consistent with the reasons stated by this Court at the time, Defendants' Batson objections are OVERRULED.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         The U.S. Supreme Court held in Batson that the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause prohibits prosecutors from exercising peremptory strikes solely on the basis of race. Batson, 476 U.S. at 89. The Supreme Court established a three-part process for trial courts to use when adjudicating a Batson challenge:

First, a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a peremptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race; second, if that showing has been made, the prosecution must offer a race-neutral basis for striking the juror in question; and third, in light of the parties' submissions, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination.

Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.Ct. 2187, 2199 (2015) (quoting Snyder v. Louisiana, 552 U.S. 472, 476- 77 (2008)). To establish a prima facie case of discrimination, the defendant must show that the challenged juror is a member of a cognizable racial group and that the facts and “any other relevant circumstances raise an inference” that the prosecution used the peremptory strike to discriminate on the basis of race. Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-97. The party challenging the strike bears the burden of proof. United States v. Girouard, 521 F.3d 110, 113 (1st Cir. 2008).

         The First Circuit requires district courts to “articulate the bases of their factual findings related to Batson challenges . . . ” and to specifically “state whether it finds the professed reason for a challenged strike to be facially race neutral or inherently discriminatory and why it chooses to credit or discredit the given explanation.” United States v. Perez, 35 F.3d 632, 636 (1st Cir. 1994). In accordance with this directive, the Court supplements its findings on the record with this order.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Jury selection occurred over the course of four days. All potential jurors were asked to fill out questionnaires that asked about demographic information, financial hardship, and potential bias. Each potential juror who was not excused for hardship on the basis of his or her questionnaire responses participated in a group and then an individual voir dire. At the individual voir dire, which averaged several minutes per person, the Court discussed with each potential juror any affirmative responses from the group voir dire, followed up on questions from the written questionnaire, and allowed the Government and Defendants the opportunity for additional follow-up on any responses. During the final day of jury selection, the Government exercised peremptory strikes on two people of color. The Defendants[1] challenged both peremptory strikes under Batson.

         A. The Government's First Peremptory Strike (Prospective Juror 14)

         Defendants made a prima facie showing that the Government's first peremptory strike was exercised on the basis of race by identifying Prospective Juror 14 as a woman of Indian descent who was “the only Indian woman on the panel, ” [Jan. 25, 2019 Hr'g Tr. (“Hr'g Tr.”) at 20:23], and the same race as Defendant Kapoor, [id. at 21:10-26]. See Batson, 476 U.S. at 96- 97.

         The Government's proffered race-neutral justification for its strike of Prospective Juror 14 was that she had difficulty speaking and understanding English. [Hr'g Tr. at 20:6-7]. The Government asserted that Prospective Juror 14 wrote in her questionnaire that she had trouble understanding English and stated that she “was a little confused” during the group voir dire. [Id. at 20:7-11].[2]

         The Court found that the strike did not amount to purposeful discrimination. [Id. at 21:1- 2; 21:19-20]. Given the allegations in the indictment and the pre-trial motion practice, it is evident that this trial will involve complex concepts and technical testimony. The Government's asserted justification for the strike-a concern about the juror's ability to follow along with the testimony-was a legitimate, race-neutral basis to strike Prospective Juror 14 in favor of another juror with a more sophisticated knowledge of English. [Id. at 20:4-8]; see, e.g., United States v. Gainer, 151 Fed.Appx. 887, 888-89 (11th Cir. 2005) (upholding district court's allowance of a peremptory strike on the basis of prospective juror's limited English proficiency, despite prospective juror's stated belief that “she understood English well enough to follow the proceedings, ” because of “demonstrated language-based difficulty understanding terms in the indictment” and complexity of banking fraud). Further, the Government's assessment of Prospective Juror 14's language skills was supported by the voir dire record and by the Court's own observations during the voir dire.[3]

         B. The Government's Second Peremptory Strike (Juror 122)

         Defendants made a prima facie showing that the Government's second peremptory strike was exercised on the basis of race by identifying Prospective Juror 122 as an Ethiopian woman of color, [Hr'g Tr. 23:19-24], and stating that there had been a pattern of discrimination by the Government, which used its first two ...


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