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Nevada Supreme Court Reverses Convictions Where Trial Court Failed to Conduct Third Step of Batson Challenge

by Chad Marks

The Supreme Court of Nevada ruled that a trial court’s failure to properly conduct the three-step Batson analysis when a prospective juror is allegedly dismissed on the basis of race constitutes a structural error necessitating a new trial.

Gregory Anthony Williams was convicted of six counts of lewdness and sexual assault with a minor involving his girlfriend’s 10- and 12-year-old daughters. After his conviction, Williams appealed arguing, among other things, that the district court erred in denying his challenge that the State improperly struck an African-American woman from the jury panel.

The Supreme Court of Nevada agreed, paving the way for a new trial. In ruling in favor of Williams, the Court relied on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Batson v. Kentucky 476 U.S. 79 (1986), which ruled that the use of a peremptory strike to remove a potential juror on the basis of race is unconstitutional.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Batson and the Nevada Supreme Court in Kaczmarek v. State, 91 P.3d 16 (Nev. 2004), have both instructed that once a Batson challenge is made, the district court must engage in the following three-step analysis: (1) the opponent of the peremptory strike must make a prima facie showing that the challenge was based on race, (2) upon such a showing, the proponent of the peremptory strike must provide a race-neutral reason for the strike, and (3) the court must hear arguments to determine whether the opponent of the strike has proven “purposeful discrimination” on the basis of race.

The Court in Williams’ case found that the district court never conducted the inquiry required by step three. Rather than doing so, the district court simply said, “I don’t find the State based it [peremptory strike] on race,” after it heard the State’s purported reason for striking the juror. The Court also found fault in Williams having to ask the district court to perform step three of the Batson analysis so that he could respond to the State’s proffered race-neutral explanation. It explained that he should not have had to request the district court to perform step three.

Based upon the district court’s mishandling of the Batson challenge analysis, the Court concluded that the lower court “clearly erred in denying Williams’ Batson challenge.” Furthermore, the Court ruled the error constitutes a structural error and thus requires the reversal of his conviction and a new trial.

In sending a message to other courts, the Supreme Court admonished: “district courts continue to shortchange Batson challenges and scrimp on the analysis and findings necessary to support their Batson determinations. We take this opportunity to, yet again, urge district courts to follow the three-step Batson procedure.”

Accordingly, the Nevada Supreme Court reversed the judgment of conviction and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. See: Williams v. State, 429 P.3d 301 (Nev. 2018). 

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Williams v. State



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