Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Colloton, Circuit Judge.
Submitted: September 22, 2010
Before RILEY, Chief Judge, MELLOY and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.
An Arkansas jury convicted Tishaun Demetri Stenhouse of capital murder and committing a felony with a firearm. Stenhouse received a sentence of life imprisonment without parole, plus fifteen years' imprisonment. After the Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed his convictions, Stenhouse filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his petition, Stenhouse, who is a black male, alleged that the prosecution exercised peremptory challenges based on race during jury selection, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court*fn2 denied Stenhouse's petition, and we affirm.
Stenhouse was prosecuted for a murder committed in Little Rock, Arkansas. On the evening of July 7, 2003, Stenhouse and several others gathered at a residence in Little Rock. Gunshots, including one shot attributed to Stenhouse by a witness, were fired inside the house. The occupants then moved to the front yard, where Stenhouse shot and killed a man. Stenhouse was charged with capital murder and committing a felony with a firearm. See Stenhouse v. State, 209 S.W.3d 352, 354 (Ark. 2005).
During jury selection, the prosecution exercised peremptory strikes against three black members of the venire: Ms. Jackson, Mr. York, and Ms. Smith. Citing Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), defense counsel objected to the strikes, alleging that they were motivated by the race of the prospective jurors and thus prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause. At the trial court's request, the prosecution proffered race-neutral reasons for the strikes. The trial court overruled Stenhouse's three objections.
After a trial, the jury found Stenhouse guilty of both charges. The court sentenced Stenhouse to life imprisonment without parole on the capital murder charge, and fifteen years' imprisonment on the firearms charge.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas rejected Stenhouse's Batson claims and affirmed the convictions. Stenhouse, 209 S.W.3d at 354. The supreme court concluded that the prosecution's reasons for striking Jackson and York "appear to meet this court's definition of race-neutral reasons," and held that the trial court, in overruling Stenhouse's objections, did not abuse its discretion. Id. at 357. The supreme court likewise held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Stenhouse's Batson objection to the prosecution's strike of Smith. Id. at 358.
In 2006, Stenhouse filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. His petition alleged that the prosecution made race-motivated peremptory strikes and that the state courts misapplied clearly established federal law in rejecting his Batson challenges. The district court denied relief, but granted Stenhouse a certificate of appealability.
Batson established that "the Equal Protection Clause forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race." 476 U.S. at 89. In evaluating Batson objections, trial courts are guided by a three-step process:
First, a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a peremptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race. Second, if that showing has been made, the prosecution must offer a race-neutral basis for striking the juror in question. Third, in light of the parties' submissions, the trial ...