70 Years for an $80 Robbery Overturned

A jury convicted Darryl Shirley of burglarizing an unoccupied house and grabbing $80 from a Subway sandwich shop’s cash register in 2005. No weapons were used and no one got hurt, but it wasn’t Shirley’s first offense.

So Shirley was sentenced to 50-years-to-life plus another 20 years based on prior convictions, a very long time for an $80 robbery.

But the prosecutor in this Sacramento case kicked four potential black jurors off the jury panel during the selection process and couldn’t remember why he did it.  Shirley is also black.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Shirley’s conviction Friday saying the state didn’t meet the race-neutral justifications for striking jurors.

Of the 60 potential jurors impaneled, five were black and four of the five were removed and only one remained on the jury.

When a defendant like Shirley brings a claim that racial bias infected jury selection, the defendant must show sufficient evidence to allow a judge to conclude discrimination occurred.  Once that’s done the burden shifts to the state to explain its race-neutral justifications for removing the four black jurors.

This was bungled throughout Shirley’s case and the state appeals process, according to Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the 9th Circuit.

Interestingly, 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski served as the trial judge during Shirley’s 2007 habeas appeal to federal court.  Kozinski had rejected Shirley’s claim.

The prosecutor in Shirley’s case could not remember why he had exercised his option to strike the black jurors, according to the opinion.

Reinhardt said the ruling addresses the narrow set of cases in which a prosecutor testifies he cannot actually remember the reason he struck potential jurors.

While the prosecutor may testify about his or her general jury selection practices, that boosts the state’s case, but it does not completely overcome the need to say why in the particular case on appeal.

Shirley was denied that protection, Reinhardt said.

The conviction was overturned and the state ordered to either retry Shirley or let him go.

Joining Reinhardt was Chief Judge Sidney Thomas and Judge Morgan Christen.

Case: Shirley v. Yates, No. 13-16273




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