Monday, January 25, 2010

Batson and Miranda issues

The Eleventh Circuit issued United States v. Bernal-Benitez today, one of those soup-to-nuts opinions that covers a variety of issues -- here, sufficiency, Batson, prosecutorial remarks during closing argument, suppression, and the role in the offense enhancement at sentencing. Two discussions are particularly interesting.

As to the Batson claim, the prosecutor said that he struck a black juror because he was less educated than other members of the venire and the government wanted a more educated panel; the defense pointed out that the prosecutor accepted a postal worker, a bus driver, and an airport parts mechanic. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the judge's overruling of the Batson objection, saying that the judge identified that the challenged venire person's style of communication and demeanor set him apart from other blue-collar workers on the panel. The Court rejected a plain error defense argument that after the trial judge upheld this strike, he should have revisited the Batson objection to the prosecutor's strike of another juror; the Court refused to find that the trial judge had a duty to review sua sponte any prior Batson ruling based upon the same grounds.

Second, the Court affirmed the finding that a co-defendant's statement had been voluntarily given despite the fact that the agents wrote it down in English, which that defendant did not speak. (A Spanish-speaking FBI agent testified that he orally translated the statement for the defendant before the defendant signed it.) The Court acknowledged that "it seems unusual to have a suspect sign a statement written in a language he cannot read," but found that the situation did not involve police overreaching.

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