The PA Supreme Court has held that although the prosecutor acted with discriminatory intent to peremptorily strike an African American juror, such conduct did not amount to intentional or reckless misconduct sufficient to invoke the double jeopardy protections of Article 1, Section 10 of the PA Constitution, even though it deprived Defendant of a fair trial.
Edwards argued that “the prosecution did not simply strike a few African Americans from jury selection, but exercised every peremptory challenge against racial minorities, a tactic that the Superior Court viewed as ‘startling.’” He further argued that “the prosecutor’s racial discrimination demonstrated at least a conscious disregard of the fundamental fairness of [his] trial so as to bar retrial.” In other words, “the prosecutor, in contravention of the double jeopardy protections of the state charter and our jurisprudence interpreting the same, improperly sought [Edwards’] conviction at the expense of justice, which cannot be countenanced by this Court.”
The Supreme Court acknowledged that “deliberate racial discrimination in any form, and most definitely in the jury selection process, is repugnant to the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and cannot be countenanced.”
However, the Court declined “to create a per se rule that all Batson violations constitute prosecutorial overreaching to bar retrial under the state charter as a matter law,” noting that “not all serious prosecutorial error that warrants the grant of a new trial likewise merits double jeopardy protection so as to require the dismissal of criminal charges.”
The Court explained that “the record before us demonstrates that the prosecutor exercised a single peremptory challenge with discriminatory intent after having accepted six of the first eight African Americans on the jury. This misconduct, undeniably warranting a new trial, does not demonstrate an intentional or reckless disregard of the fundamental fairness of Appellant’s trial … so as to warrant dismissal of criminal charges.”
“While reprehensible and certainly worthy of the grant of a new trial, the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred herein in the form of a Batson violation does not constitute the most egregious prosecutorial misconduct warranting double jeopardy relief under Article I, Section 10 of the Pennsylvania Constitution.”
- The prosecutor’s Batson violation did not constitute a prosecutorial tactic designed specifically to provoke Appellant into seeking a mistrial;
- The prosecutor’s Batson violation did not demonstrate that the prosecutor intentionally deprived Appellant of his right to a fair trial; and,
- The prosecutor’s Batson violation was not undertaken recklessly with a conscious disregard for a substantial risk that Appellant would be denied a fair trial.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, which affirmed the trial court’s order denying Edwards’ motion to dismiss the criminal charges against him on double jeopardy grounds.
COMMONWEALTH V. EDWARDS, No. 6 EAP 2021 (Pa. April 12, 2022).