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State v. Hollis

Supreme Court of Maine

July 10, 2018

STATE OF MAINE
v.
MALIK B. HOLLIS

          Argued: June 12, 2018

          James P. Howaniec, Esq. (orally), Lewiston, for appellant Malik B. Hollis

          Katherine E. Bozeman, Asst. Dist. Atty. (orally), Androscoggin County DA's Office, Lewiston, for appellee State of Maine

          Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

          HUMPHREY, J.

         [¶1] Malik B. Hollis appeals from a judgment of conviction of reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 211(1), 1252(4) (2017), and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon (Class C), 17-A M.R.S. §§ 209(1), 1252(4) (2017), entered in the Unified Criminal Docket (Androscoggin County, Stokes, J.) after a jury trial. According to Hollis, who describes himself as an African American male, the trial court erred when it overruled his objection to the State's use of a peremptory challenge that excluded from the jury the sole person of color[1] in the jury pool. Because the record supports the trial court's determination that the State did not engage in purposeful discrimination when it peremptorily challenged the juror, we affirm the judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         [¶2] On May 21, 2016, an altercation occurred between Hollis and several white men outside an apartment building in Lewiston. Although what precipitated the altercation and how it escalated were disputed at trial, [2] there was no dispute that at some point during the incident, Hollis ran around the corner to his apartment and returned with a handgun. Upon returning outside and seeing the men, Hollis proceeded to fire the gun at a dirt pile located near him.

         [¶3] On May 23, 2016, Hollis was charged by complaint with reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon. A jury trial was scheduled for July 2017.

         [¶4] Jury selection took place on July 6, 2017. Of the thirty-two randomly selected prospective jurors, only one-Juror 71-was a person of color. Neither the prosecutor nor defense counsel challenged Juror 71 for cause, but the prosecutor used a peremptory challenge, see M.R.U. Crim. P. 24(c), to strike Juror 71. Defense counsel objected to the State's exercise of a peremptory challenge to strike from the jury the sole person of color in the jury pool. The prosecutor offered an explanation that the juror's "ethnicity had no bearing in regards to why I struck him. I was looking for his level of education and other various factors that were provided in the list from the court." According to the information about the prospective jurors provided by the court to both parties, Juror 71 had an eleventh-grade education, which was the lowest education level among the thirty-two prospective jurors randomly selected from the jury pool. The court noted the objection but stated that it could not make any findings of systemic exclusion based on one juror. Hollis did not request that the court engage in any further inquiry, and he did not object to the way the court addressed the issue. Juror 71 was struck from the jury.

         [¶5] Hollis's trial took place on July 13 and 14, 2017. The defense strategy was one of self-defense and the court instructed the jury accordingly. The jury found Hollis guilty on both charges. The court then sentenced Hollis to serve a term of three years for each charge, to be served concurrently, and ordered Hollis to forfeit his firearm.

         [¶6] Following the trial, Hollis filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, or in the alternative for a new trial, on the basis that the State's striking from the jury the sole person of color violated the principles of equal protection and due process as outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The State filed a response and the court held a hearing on Hollis's motion.

         [¶7] The court denied Hollis's motion in a written order on October 6, 2017. The court acknowledged that it had erred in the handling of Hollis's Batson challenge at the time of Hollis's objection during jury selection by mistakenly focusing on the absence of any systemic exclusion of minorities when, as it now understood, the "Constitution forbids striking even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory purpose." The court then described the three-step process outlined in Batson that it acknowledged it should have applied when Hollis objected to the State's peremptory challenge. After applying the Batson test to the circumstances of the case at hand, the ...


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