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  • Writer's pictureDavid A. Cmelik Law PLC

Appeals court: juror strike not racial, weight of evidence enough to convict

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Jurors are deselected from a pool of potential jurors. Lawyers take turns quizzing potential jurors about their impartiality and life experience and beliefs. Strikes for cause eliminate potential jurors who can under no circumstances be impartial. Peremptory strikes are strikes each side makes to remove those who are likely to be unfavorable to their case. If a prosecutor strike looks racially motivated on its face, the defendant may make a "Batson" challenge to force them to justify the strike with facially valid reasons.

In State v. Taylor, the Iowa Court of Appeals effectively upheld what will be a life sentence for a defendant convicted during a jury trial of delivery of methamphetamine to a minor as well as illegal and abusive acts against the same minor female.

Delivering methamphetamine to a minor carries an indeterminate prison sentence of 99 years. The judge sentenced the Defendant to that—and added 10 years consecutive, or, on top of the original sentence, for the abusive misconduct.

At issue during the appeal was whether the prosecutor improperly struck an African American juror from the pool of potential jurors. The Defendant raised a “Batson” challenge, which requires that that the opponent of a strike—in this case the defendant—must make a “prima facie,” or, “on its face,” challenge that then requires the proponent of the strike—here the prosecutor—to justify the strike with a “facially valid reason” for it.

In Taylor, potential juror No. 23 sought to be excused because her brain tumor was a disabling distraction from jury deliberations. She stated, “If I get upset, it switches all the time and I don’t know if I will be able to sit through it or not,” adding that “it feels like something is swishing in my head at all times.” She said it felt like “water or whatever is going on” in her head may interfere.

More important to the prosecution in a case involving allegedly inappropriate contact with a minor female was No. 23’s statement that “people these days are exaggerating sex crimes," that she herself prosecuted by the State for theft in the fifth degree, and that she was familiar with the Defendant’s family. The State believed that she would be hostile to the State’s case for all of these reasons.

The Court stated that a party does not need to prove facts sufficient to strike a juror for cause when overcoming a Batson challenge.

The Defendant, however, faulted the district court for not performing ““an inquiry that encompasses the totality of jury selection and articulates why the entire process has or has not been race-neutral.”

The Court of Appeals stated that the failure to make a specific finding was not fatal to its decision to overrule the Batson challenge. Evidence was clear there was a good reason other than race to strike her, the court reasoned.

The Court also examined some of the more lurid details of the case pursuant to Defendant’s challenge to the weight of the evidence. The Taylor defendant alleged that more credible evidence supported an alternative verdict—including discrepancies in the witness’s story.

Writing for the Court, Senior Appeals Court Judge Vogel wrote, “The question for the court is not whether there was sufficient credible evidence to support the verdict rendered or an alternative verdict, but whether ‘a greater amount of credible evidence’ suggests the verdict rendered was a miscarriage of justice.”

The Defendant alleged that there was no methamphetamine nor paraphernalia seized in the case and no DNA evidence to prove the girl’s accusations against him.

The decision noted, however, that (1) the Defendant texted his paramour about all of his illegal activities; (2) security camera footage showed the girl enter and exit his apartment; and (3) toxicological screens of the girl showed she had methamphetamine and THC in her system. In addition, the Taylor defendant’s own paramour testified they used drugs in the minor's presence.

“Even considering [the Defendant’s] assertions that the weight of the evidence did not support his convictions, the evidence in the record generally corroborates [the victim’s] testimony and the State’s evidence that the [the Defendant] delivered methamphetamine to her and committed [abuse],” wrote Judge Vogel.

The Court affirmed the convictions.

NOTE: David A. Cmelik Law PLC had no involvement in the Taylor case. This is an appeal before the Iowa Court of Appeals and further avenues of appeal may result.

If you or a loved one have been arrested for a crime in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, or other Iowa community, contact us for a free initial consultation. Remember, however, that a blog is not legal advice and that no attorney-client relationship is established by sending unsolicited information to a lawyer over the Internet.


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