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State v. Adams

Supreme Court of Minnesota

November 6, 2019

State of Minnesota, Respondent,
v.
Chance Dechristian Adams, Appellant.

          Hennepin County, Office of Appellate Courts

          Keith Ellison, Attorney General, Saint Paul, Minnesota; and Michael O. Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney, Mark V. Griffin, Senior Assistant County Attorney, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondent.

          Cathryn Middlebrook, Chief Appellate Public Defender, Jenna Yauch-Erickson, Assistant Public Defender, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for appellant.

         SYLLABUS

         The district court did not clearly err in concluding that the State's asserted reason for striking an African-American prospective juror was not a pretext for purposeful discrimination.

          OPINION

          LILLEHAUG, JUSTICE.

         Chance Adams was convicted of first-degree felony murder, first-degree aggravated robbery, and possession of a firearm by an ineligible person related to a fatal shooting. On direct appeal, Adams asserts that the district court clearly erred by overruling his Batson objection to the State's peremptory challenge of a prospective juror-an African-American woman. We affirm the district court.

         FACTS

         The facts of this case are not in dispute. The only issue raised in this appeal is the district court's decision to overrule Adams' Batson objection to the State's peremptory challenge of a prospective juror (Juror 9).

         On June 17, 2017, in Webber Park in north Minneapolis, Adams approached two teenagers from behind, pulled out a gun, and told them, "[g]ive me everything you got." After taking one teenager's wallet and both of their cell phones, Adams told them to lie on the ground. They both did so-face down. After going through their pockets, Adams fired two shots that struck one of the teenagers in the back and killed him. At his jury trial, Adams testified to support an intoxication defense. He was convicted of first-degree felony murder, first-degree aggravated robbery, and possession of a firearm by an ineligible person.

         For jury selection, the court used a written jury questionnaire and individual oral voir dire. Juror 9 was the first African-American prospective juror questioned. In the jury questionnaire, Juror 9 was asked about her criminal history, her family's criminal history, and contacts with police officers. The jury questionnaire instructed her to check separate boxes for whether she, her spouse, her family, or a friend had "Been charged with or accused of a crime (other than a traffic offense)." She checked only the box for her family. She was also asked if anyone had "Been arrested or placed under investigation for a crime." She did not check any boxes. She was asked if anyone had "Been convicted of a crime (other than a traffic offense)." She checked only the box for her family. Each of the questions asked for an explanation: "What happened?" Juror 9 did not provide any explanations. The jury questionnaire also asked, "What contacts, if any, have you had with police officers?" Juror 9 did not answer.

         After the prospective jurors filled out the questionnaire, the court conducted sequestered voir dire. The court began Juror 9's questioning by asking about her answers on the jury questionnaire. The court asked Juror 9 about one of the questions that she did not answer-"Has anyone been arrested or placed under investigation for a crime?"-and asked if her brother had been. Juror 9 answered, "Yes." The court asked, "Was there any other family members?" Juror 9 responded, "No, ma'am." The State asked, "Have you ever been charged with or accused of a crime?" She responded, "No, sir."

         After Juror 9 was questioned by the State and Adams, the State exercised one of its peremptory challenges to strike her. Adams responded with a Batson objection and argued that the State's peremptory challenge was purposeful racial discrimination. In deciding the Batson challenge, the district court followed the three-step process outlined in Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.02, subd. 7(3).

         At step one, Adams had to make a prima facie showing that the State exercised its peremptory challenge on the basis of race. Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.02, subd. 7(3)(a). Adams argued that the first step of the Batson prong was met because Juror 9 was a member of a protected class, and the State had deviated from normal voir dire by asking numerous questions ...


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