Another death penalty case reversed by the same judge who has never affirmed a state court capital case during the last decade and who himself has been reversed by the Supreme Court more often than any other judge. If this case is not reheard en banc it will be reversed by the Supreme Court if the AG seeks cert.
When the Supreme Court decided Batson v. Kentucky 476 U.S. 79 (1986) the case gave every trial with a black or Hispanic defendant an automatic ground for appeal if the prosecution excused a minority juror. The Court set up a framework that applies in an infinite fact driven variety of cases and requires trial courts to spend more time selecting a jury than conducting the trial. A motion objecting to prosecution excusal of a minority juror now fills rooms with thousands of pages of voir dire transcripts, objections, hearings, appeals and grist for the habeas corpus mill-including the so-called “comparative jury analysis” requiring review of every juror questioned compared with those excused.
Ayala is no exception. Unfortunately, the trial judge inexplicably committed a serious mistake by allowing the prosecutor to explain his reasons for excluding minority jurors in camera without the presence of defense counsel. In any event, the jury convicted Ayala and voted the death penalty. On automatic appeal the California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction but only after holding erroneous the trial court hearing without counsel. Despite the state supreme court ruling that the trial court hearing without defense counsl qualified as state and federal constitutional error, the Justices held the error harmless. Conviction affirmed on appeal; habeas corpus granted in U.S. district court; appeal by the Warden to a three judge 9th Circuit panel; affirmed in 2-1 decision.
The majority 9th Circuit panel engaged in an academic linguistic analysis of the Batson case and its progeny. The panel concluded the California Supreme Court committed federal constitutional error and had not decided the direct appeal in state court on the “merits” of the Batson motion as required by AEDPA. Absent a ruling on the merits, de novo review followed. The panel agreed the trial judge had decided erroneously, held this practice caused prejudice, and reversed. Then the majority panel engaged in an endless discussion of comparative analysis of jurors, one of the most questionable rules ever invented, and completely misunderstanding the reason prosecutors excuse jurors. Ayala, who killed three men, will probably go free after the 12 year period from his conviction.
The dissent skewers the majority and cites two cases recently decided by the Supreme Court specifically rejecting the majority analysis. Both case had reversed the 9th Circuit. The Ayala case has no precedential consequence, completely misrepresents the law, and is another example of the 9th Circuit efforts to manipulate and undermine the death penalty.