The Supreme Court handed down an interesting and important decision regarding Batson challenges today, Addison v. State.
At trial, a Black criminal defendant made a timely Batson objection to the State’s use of its peremptory challenges to remove a Black venireperson. The Defendant made no substantive rebuttal argument in response to the State’s facially race-neutral reason for the removal. On appeal, the Defendant advanced this argument and asked the Court to make a side-by-side comparison of similarly situated non-Black jurors who were permitted to serve.
The Court rejected the general rule that a defendant may not argue one ground for objection at trial and then raised new grounds on appeal, and held that Indiana appellate courts will examine these newly-raised Batson arguments under the fundamental error standard of review.
The Court then carefully examined the voir dire questioning at issue, rejected the State’s characterization of the juror’s responses, and determined the State had failed to put forth a valid race-neutral explanation.
It seems that a Batson violation is always a fundamental error. As the Court explained, “the potential harm of a Batson violation is inescapable.” Thus, the ultimate result of the Court’s ruling could be that any Batson error is essentially unwaivable, so long as the record would support an argument that a juror was stricken because of his or her race.
This case is important to both civil and criminal appellate lawyers, who should carefully consider whether a Batson argument – even one not made by trial counsel – should be advanced on appeal.
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