In a recent decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court in the matter of State v. Raynor, 334 Conn. 264 (2019), the Court declined to require prospective jurors to disclose their racial background as part of the jury selection process. The decision arose from a criminal action, in which a defendant was convicted of assault in the first degree, and conspiracy to commit same.
At the commencement of trial, the parties conducted voir dire of a prospective juror, R.E. At the time of this voir dire, the jury already consisted of two Caucasian women with part-time jobs. The court inquired of R.E. whether he would suffer any financial hardship by participating in the trial. R.E. worked part-time, with his shift beginning at 4:30 p.m. However, he advised the court that his job was within walking distance of the courthouse. The prospective juror contacted his employer at the court’s request, and confirmed that he would be able to start his shifts after the court had adjourned for the day, and thus had no financial concerns with jury service.
During the prosecution’s voir dire of R.E., the prosecution asked R.E. where he was from, whether he had any knowledge about the incident at issue, if any friends or family members were victims of a crime, and if he would be able to be open-minded in coming to his decision if he were to hear information about drugs during the trial. At the conclusion of voir dire of R.E., defense counsel accepted R.E. as a juror, but the prosecution peremptorily excused R.E.Pursuant to the holding in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), which prohibits the use of peremptory challenges during jury selection based on race, ethnicity, or gender, the defense asked the prosecution to provide a race neutral explanation for its use of the strike. The prosecution responded that the peremptory excusal was based on the juror’s employment history and “basically his sense of security.” The prosecution elaborated that it also had concerns because R.E. was from Hartford, where the crime occurred, although R.E. did indicate that he knew nothing about the offense. Over the objection of defense counsel, the Court held that the prosecution presented a race neutral reason for excusing R.E. After R.E. had been dismissed, the court, sua sponte, stated: “I would note that [R.E.] is not the same race as the defendant, African-American.” Later that day the court asked defense counsel whether he wanted to offer any rebuttal to the prosecutor’s race neutral explanation for using its peremptory challenge to strike R.E. In response, defense counsel stated that there was nothing extraordinary about R.E’s employment.
The Appellate Court rejected the defendant’s argument that the prosecutor had violated Batson in exercising a peremptory challenge to R.E., and that the prosecutor’s race neutral explanation had been a pretext for discrimination. The Appellate Court further disagreed with the defendant’s argument that the prosecutor’s willingness to accept two other prospective jurors, both of whom the defendant claimed held similar employment to R.E. but were not minorities, demonstrated that the prosecutor’s peremptory challenge as to R.E. was racially motivated. The Appellate Court concluded that this claim of disparate treatment was not preserved, and was thus unreviewable under State v. Golding, 213 Conn. 233, 239–40, 567 A. 2d 823 (1989), because the transcripts of the voir dire did not indicate the racial composition of the jury or identify the race of R.E. The Appellate Court first looked to the fact that, although the record expressly noted that R.E. was not of the same race as the defendant, there was nothing in the record demonstrating R.E.’s personal race or ethnicity. The Appellate Court next acknowledged that there was a similar lack of facts regarding seated jurors’ race. The Appellate Court held that without such information, the court cannot engage in an analysis of disparate treatment between R.E. and other jurors.
On appeal to the Supreme Court, the defendant, of course, challenged the Appellate Court’s finding that the record below was insufficient to sustain a Batson challenge on appeal. However, the defendant went further, and asked the court to “exercise its supervisory authority to require that prospective jurors identify their race” prior to the jury selection process. The defendant argued that the optional disclosure of race presently required on juror questionnaires rendered it ‘‘impossible’’ to meet an apparent precondition to the review of a Batson claim – that the record reveal the ‘‘racial composition of the venire and empaneled jury…’’.
However, the Court held that the extent to which such disclosure should be required, however, would raise significant administrative and public policy questions where the legislature has already acted by enacting General Statute § 51-232 (c). The Court noted that this would preclude it from entering further into that arena, but also indicated that the discussion regarding the efficacy of Batson would surely be taken up by the Jury Selection Task Force of the Chief Justice – a body formed by Supreme Court decision in 2019, with a task to “study the issue of racial discrimination in the selection of juries, consider measures intended to promote the selection of diverse jury panels, and to propose necessary changes, to be implemented by court rule or legislation, to the jury selection process.”