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Nevada Supreme Court Announces Rule for When Hearing Required on Fair-Cross-Section of Community Violation Claim in Jury Selection

by Dale Chappell

The Supreme Court of Nevada held on December 19, 2019, that when a defendant makes specific allegations that, if true, would establish a “prima facie” showing of a violation of racial balance in jury selection an evidentiary hearing is required.

After Keandre Valentine was convicted by a jury of several robbery charges, he appealed, arguing that the jury was not made up of a fair cross section of the community. He challenged that the 45-person venire was not fairly represented by African Americans and Hispanics according to the demographics of the community.

Valentine argued in district court that the system was at fault and not so much the court. He cited that an equal number of summonses was sent to each postal ZIP code without first ascertaining the percentage of the racial make-up of the population in each zone.

When Valentine requested an evidentiary hearing on the issue, the district court denied his request. The court cited a jury commissioner’s testimony two years ago in another case about the jury selection process. There, the commissioner said that the system was “moving towards a new improved jury selection process.” Finding no problem with the system, the court denied Valentine a hearing, despite concluding that Hispanics were in fact unrepresented in the jury pool in his case.

The Supreme Court, though, found that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing on Valentine’s claim. Both the Fourteenth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee a defendant the right to trial before a jury “selected from a representative cross-section of the community,” the Nevada Supreme Court has held. Evans v. State, 926 P.2d 265 (Nev. 1996).

While this right does not require the jury pool to “mirror” the community’s make-up, the Court said, as long as the jury selection process is designed to select jurors from a fair cross-section of the community, then the constitutional requirements are met.

In order to show a violation of the cross-section rule, a defendant must show that (1) the group alleged to be excluded is a “distinctive” group in the community, (2) the representation of this group is “not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community,” and (3) the underrepresentation is due to “systemic exclusion of the group in the jury-selection process.” Evans.

While the Court has addressed the criteria required to establish a cross-section rule violation, it said that it has not clearly established what would be required to be granted an evidentiary hearing to show when these criteria are met. The Court noted it has routinely held in habeas corpus cases that an evidentiary hearing is required when a petitioner makes allegations that, if true, would entitle him to relief. Such as rule, the Court said, would equally apply for cross-section rule violation claims regarding jury selection.

Valentine made more than general assertions of systematic exclusion of racial groups from the jury pool, the Court said. Specifically, he made assertions that an equal number of jury summonses were handed out without any regard to the racial makeup of the ZIP codes. If that were true, the Court noted, he could establish a violation of the cross-section rule. Thus, an evidentiary hearing was required in this case.

The Court cited to a case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that found a cross-section rule violation when a computer “glitch” caused jury summonses to be sent to only ZIP codes with smaller percentages of African Americans than the community at large. Garcia-Dorantes v. Warren, 801 F.3d 584 (6th Cir. 2015).

“Having alleged specific facts that could establish the underrepresentation of Hispanics as inherent in the jury selection process, Valentine was entitled to an evidentiary hearing,” the Court concluded.

Accordingly, the Court held that the district court abused its discretion in refusing to hold an evidentiary hearing and vacated Valentine’s conviction. The case was remanded for an evidentiary hearing. See: Valentine v. State, 454 P.3d 709 (Nev. 2019). 

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Valentine v. State



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