Friday, April 29th, 2022

Second Circuit: State Court’s Erroneous Denial Of Defendant’s Peremptory Strike Is Not Grounds For Federal Habeas Corpus Relief

In Murray v. Noeth, No. 20-3136 (2d Cir. Apr. 26, 2022), the Circuit (Nardini, joined by Sack and Park), held that a state trial court’s erroneous denial of a defendant’s peremptory strike does not violate the federal Constitution under Rivera v. Illinois, 556 U.S. 148 (2009), and therefore cannot support federal habeas corpus relief.

Murray was tried in New York state court for murder. After he exercised a number of peremptory strikes against male prospective jurors, the People raised a “reverse-Batson” challenge, arguing that Murray’s strikes were discriminating on the basis of sex. The state trial court sustained the People’s challenge and disallowed two strikes, restoring two men to the jury. Murray was convicted and the state appellate courts affirmed.

Murray filed a federal habeas corpus petition, contending that the state trial court had erred in sustaining the People’s reverse-Batson challenge. Specifically, Murray argued that the state trial court had conflated Batson’s second and third steps, in violation of Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765 (1995), by improperly finding that he had not offered a sex-neutral reason (step two) without separately determining whether the People had met their burden of proving purposeful discrimination (step three). The district court (Singleton, NDNY) denied the petition.

The Circuit affirmed. Assuming that the state trial court erred, the Circuit held, in light of Rivera, that “[a] state trial court’s mistaken disallowance of a criminal defendant’s peremptory strike does not, standing alone, deprive the defendant of a federal constitutional right and accordingly cannot give rise to a remedy under [28 U.S.C. § 2254.” (slip op., at 18-19). Likewise, because the Batson/Purkett three-step procedure is a framework for protecting constitutional rights but not a right in itself, the Circuit held that “[a] procedural error by a state trial court in following the three-step Batson framework does not, without more, constitute a violation of a defendant’s federal constitutional rights.” (slip op., at 19).

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