Appeals court rules dismissal of Black man from jury pool was legal, upholds Oakland murder conviction

SAN FRANCISCO — A California appeals court upheld the murder conviction against an Oakland man who is serving life for murdering his cousin, in an appeal centered on the argument that the court and prosecutor had improperly dismissed a Black man from the jury pool.

The appellate attorney for 60-year-old James Amos argued that reasons stated by the prosecutor and trial judge for dismissing the prospective juror, known in court records as Eric H., were either proxies for racism or reasoning that amounted to a catch-22; that when Black people honestly recount being unfairly treated by police or the justice system, they’re often excused from juries on the basis that they’re biased against the system.

In its 31-page decision, issued this month, the First District Appellate Court rejected these arguments, finding instead that Eric H. had been subjected to adequate questioning before his dismissal, and that there were no prospective jurors of other races who were dismissed after making similar statements during jury selection.

“We might agree that striking a Black venireperson for this reason could have some probative force as a proxy for racial bias in some circumstances—but on a record where none of the prosecutor’s professed reasons withstands scrutiny, and it merely reinforces an inference of pretext that clearly emerges from the totality of the circumstances. That is not this case,” Justice Jon B. Streeter wrote in the decision, which was also signed by Justice Tracie L. Brown and Presiding Justice Stuart Pollak. Streeter later added the decision to dismiss Eric H. was made after thorough consideration and, “Nothing in the record suggests that the trial court either was unaware of its duty to evaluate the credibility of the prosecutor’s reasons or that it failed to fulfill that duty.”

The issue of identifying and rooting out racism during jury selection is being tackled by the California Supreme Court. Existing case law sets a high bar for when judges can overturn a verdict based on an attorney’s dismissal of jurors — so high, critics argue that it’s too easy for non-whites and religious minorities to be rooted out of juries. In 2019, for instance, an appeals court judge wrote a damning dissenting opinion in a Pittsburg murder case where every Black person was taken out of the jury pool, but judges still voted the prosecution’s actions were legal.

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During jury selection of Amos’ trial, Eric H. reported that he felt he’d been profiled by police before, that a friend of his had been wrongfully charged with a crime, and remarked that, “We have the highest percentage of people behind bars than any other developed country. But major financial criminals get light sentences,” when asked how fair he thought the justice system was. Prosecutors also took note that he’d donated to civil rights and environmental groups like the ACLU, the Sierra Club, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

He added that he didn’t have “100 percent trust” in police, adding, “I generally think they are well intended and good, but …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Latest News

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