Castellanos is a case of overwhelming guilt, and the jury convicted him of second degree murder. No jury would have found him “not guilty.” The facts are simple. In the presence of witnesses, the defendant (a gang member who had just been released from jail) shot a young boy in the head because he would not join a gang. The trial was straightforward and nothing suggests the jury believed the defense of an “accidental shooting.” The trial record supports the sufficiency of evidence. Of course defense counsel filed a Batson motion on grounds the prosecutor excused an Hispanic juror – yet he had accepted 8 Hispanic jurors. The trial judge denied the motion.
On appeal in state court, Castellanos asserted no significant evidential or instructional error but argued his Batson motion; Peo. v. Castellanos, 2007 WL 2660214 (Non.Pub.). The California Court of Appeal disposed of the motion in a few paragraphs citing a California Supreme Court case deferring to the experience of trial judges and their familiarity with voir dire. The California Supreme Court denied review.
On federal habeas in district court the judge denied the petition, and Castellanos appealed. The 9th Circuit panel, none of whom had trial experience, reviewed the same record as the state court trial judge, the California Court of Appeal, the California Supreme Court (denied review) and the district court judge. The panel spent endless pages reviewing the cold voir dire record and concluded the prosecutor had excused a potential Hispanic juror on racial grounds despite his explanation of the reasons for the challenge to the judge who supervised the trial.
That a federal court would grant habeas corpus on collateral review without any deference to the state court, as required by the Supreme Court, and reverse the judgment on Batson grounds is inconceivable and a manifest injustice. This decision parallels Rice v. Collins, another 9th Circuit Batson reversal by the Supreme Court who correctly said: “The 9th Circuit simply substituted its judgment.”
The 9th Circuit is so fixated on race that it impairs their judgment. (Not only in criminal cases but immigration as well.) Castellanos was tried in 2005, nine years ago. What are the chances of retrial by the prosecution after this length of time? Ordering reversal of a murder case because one juror was allegedly wrongfully excused, despite the trial court, state court Justices on the Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court to the contrary, is irresponsible. The Supreme Court insists federal appellate judges respect and defer to state court judgments on habeas corpus.
Rehearing or cert.? If cert., the Supreme Court should reverse the 9th Circuit panel decision as an “abuse of appellate discretion,” a term used by the Justices in a 9th Circuit decision reversed during the last term. And this habeas corpus petition -a collateral review entitled to double deference – overruling facts found by the trial judge and normally accepted on appeal, invites Congressional review to tighten AEDPA or eliminate federal review of state court decisions.
Note: The 9th Circuit panel used the so called “comparative analysis” system of matching questions and answers of jurors. Worthless. Nothing in the “comparative analysis” includes the voice, demeanor, conduct, or body language of a juror. Every trial lawyer knows that. The 9th Circuit panel doesn’t.