RESPONDENT: Steven Martell Collins
LOCATION: Forbidden Wheels Motorcycle Club
DOCKET NO.: 04-52
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2005-2006)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
CITATION: 546 US 333 (2006)
GRANTED: Jun 28, 2005
ARGUED: Dec 05, 2005
DECIDED: Jan 18, 2006
Mark R. Drozdowski - argued the cause for Respondent
William W. Lockyer - argued the cause for Petitioners
Facts of the case
At Collins' state-court drug trial, he alleged that the prosecutor had used a peremptory challenge to strike a juror on account of her race. The prosecutor gave several race-neutral explanations for the strike, which the trial court accepted. Upon being convicted, Collins appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which upheld the conviction. According to the Court of Appeal, the juror's youth and demeanor were both valid reasons for striking her. The California Supreme Court denied review. The Federal District Court denied Collins' habeas petition, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), federal courts must defer to a state-court finding of fact unless it is an "unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." Applying this standard, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the trial court's acceptance of the prosecutor's race-neutral explanations was an unreasonable determination. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to determine whether the Ninth Circuit had acted correctly.
Does the AEDPA allow a federal court to reject the presumption of correctness for a state-court finding of fact as an "unreasonable determination of the facts," even when a rational fact finder could have determined the facts as the state court did?
Media for Rice v. CollinsAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 2005 in Rice v. Collins
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 18, 2006 in Rice v. Collins
John G. Roberts, Jr.:
Justice Kennedy has the opinion in No. 04-52, Rice versus Collins.
Anthony M. Kennedy:
In Batson versus Kentucky, a decision decided by this Court in 1986, it was established that it is unconstitutional for a prosecutor to strike a prospective juror based on that juror’s race.
A Batson challenge, in that case and in subsequent cases as it has developed, entails a three-step process: first, the trial court must decide whether there is a prima facie showing of discrimination; second, if so, the prosecutor must provide a race-neutral explanation; and, third, the court then must determine whether the defendant has carried the burden of proving purposeful discrimination.
Collins is the respondent in this case.
He was on trial for criminal charges in a California state court, the Superior Court for the State of California, in and for the County of Los Angeles.
After the prosecutor used her second peremptory strike on an African-American woman, defense counsel made a Batson objection.
The trial court, satisfied with the prima facie step, went on to Step 2 and it asked the prosecutor to explain the basis for the challenge.
The prosecutor said she was concerned that the juror was young and likely to be lenient on drug offenses; lacks ties to the community; and had rolled her eyes in response to a question from the court.
The prosecutor also indicated she was seeking gender balance in the jury.
The trial court had to go then to Step 3 and determine if there was racial discrimination.
The trial court disallowed or discredited the prosecutor’s use of gender.
It did credit the prosecutor’s other explanations, even though it had not seen the juror’s troubling behavior, and the California Court of Appeals affirmed this ruling.
After his conviction, the respondent filed a federal petition of habeas corpus, which the District Court denied.
The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reversed.
The Court of Appeals found that it was unreasonable to credit the prosecutor’s explanations.
We now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, federal habeas-corpus courts may overturn state court factual findings only if there are unreasonable determinations in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings.
Although the Court of Appeals invoked this standard, we concluded it improperly substituted its judgment for that of the state court.
The Court of Appeals held any reasonable fact finder would have disregarded the prosecutor’s rendition of events.
In our view, the record does not support this conclusion.
Reasonable minds reviewing the record might disagree about the prosecutor’s credibility; but on habeas review, that does not suffice to supersede the state court’s judgment on that issue.
In reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals, we are unanimous; Justice Breyer has filed a concurring opinion, which Justice Souter has joined.