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The State of New Hampshire v. Mohamed Ouahman

December 7, 2012

THE STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
MOHAMED OUAHMAN



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conboy, J.

a.m. on the morning of their release. The direct address of the court's home page is: http://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme.

Argued: October 18, 2012

After a jury trial in Superior Court (Garfunkel, J.), the defendant, Mohamed Ouahman, was convicted of two counts of kidnapping, see RSA 633:1, I(d) (2007), and two counts of robbery, see RSA 636:1 (2007). On appeal, he argues that the trial court erred by overruling his objection to the State's use of its peremptory challenges to strike male jurors. We affirm.

The following facts are drawn from the record or are otherwise undisputed. The defendant was indicted for the kidnapping and robbery of two men. During jury selection, the trial court began by reading to the venire a list of witnesses and asking a series of questions for purposes of preliminary voir dire. The venire consisted of twenty-nine potential jurors: sixteen women and thirteen men.

The court clerk then randomly drew names from a box containing the names of all twenty-nine potential jurors. As each name was drawn, the juror indicated whether the juror had a "yes" answer to any of the court's preliminary questions. If the juror answered negatively, the juror was seated in the jury box. If the juror answered affirmatively, the juror was questioned further by the court. The parties were also given the opportunity to challenge the juror for cause. If found qualified by the court, the juror was then seated. This process continued until fourteen jurors were seated in the jury box. At that point, the jury panel consisted of six women and eight men.

The parties then took turns exercising their three peremptory challenges privately at the clerk's bench. See RSA 606:3, III (2001); RSA 606:4, III (2001). As each juror was stricken, the court clerk randomly selected the name of another potential juror from the venire. If found qualified, that juror replaced the challenged juror; if not found qualified, another name was drawn. The State ultimately struck three men, one of whom the State had been unsuccessful in striking for cause. That juror had indicated that he might be more skeptical of a police officer's testimony than the testimony of other witnesses.

Following the State's third peremptory strike, the defendant raised a "Batson challenge," arguing that the State was improperly striking jurors based on gender. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986) (Equal Protection Clause forbids State from challenging juror solely on account of race), overruled in part by Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400 (1991); J. E. B. v. Alabama ex rel. T. B., 511 U.S. 127, 130-31 (1994) (forbidding peremptory challenges based on gender). The prosecutor responded that she had not noticed that she had stricken only male jurors. She also stated, "I based my challenges on the responses they've given and the information in their questionnaire[s]." The trial court then overruled the defendant's objection without explanation. The final jury panel consisted of nine women and five men. The defendant was convicted of all counts, and this appeal followed.

On appeal, the defendant contends that the trial court erred by denying his Batson challenge to the State's use of peremptory challenges to strike only male jurors. He argues that this denial violated his equal protection rights. Notably, he does not specify whether he relies on the State Constitution, the Federal Constitution, or both. Accordingly, we construe his argument as predicated on federal law only. See State v. Hartford, 132 N.H. 580, 583 (1989).

"[T]he State's privilege to strike individual jurors through peremptory challenges[] is subject to the commands of the Equal Protection Clause." Batson, 476 U.S. at 89. When a defendant objects on the basis of gender discrimination under Batson, courts employ a three-step inquiry:

Once the opponent of a peremptory challenge has made out a prima facie case of gender-based discrimination (step 1), the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the strike to come forward with a gender-neutral explanation (step 2). If a genderneutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must then decide (step 3) whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful gender-based discrimination.

State v. Taylor, 142 N.H. 6, 9-10 (1997) (quotation and brackets omitted). "[A] party alleging gender discrimination must make a prima facie showing of intentional discrimination before the party exercising the challenge is required to explain the basis for the strike." Id. at 10 (quotation omitted).

The defendant argues that he established a prima facie case of gender discrimination and that the State failed to come forward with a gender-neutral explanation for its strikes. He further maintains that the trial court erroneously and prematurely ended the Batson inquiry despite his prima facie showing. We acknowledge that the trial court did not require the State to provide a gender-neutral explanation for its strikes; instead, the court simply denied the defendant's challenge without further explanation. We interpret the trial court's action as an implicit determination that the defendant failed to make a prima facie showing of discrimination, see United States v. Girouard, 521 F.3d 110, 115 (1st Cir. 2008), which we will uphold unless it is clearly erroneous, Taylor, 142 N.H. at 10.

In order to establish a prima facie case of gender discrimination under Batson, "a defendant must point to facts and circumstances that raise an inference of impermissible discrimination." Id. "[T]he trial court should consider all relevant circumstances in determining whether a defendant has made the necessary prima facie showing." Id. (quotation omitted). Under this inquiry, "the prosecutor's pattern of peremptory strikes is significant[,] as are the prosecutor's questions and statements during voir dire examination and in exercising his challenges." Lark v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, 645 F.3d 596, 620 (3d Cir. 2011) (quotation omitted) (challenges based on race). Additional factors include the number of potential jurors in the protected category, the nature of the crime, and whether the defendant or the victim is a member of the protected category. See id.

Here, the defendant argues that the State's use of all of its allotted peremptory strikes to remove men from the jury supports at least an inference ...


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