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Miller v. Young

Supreme Court of South Dakota

April 18, 2018

CHRIS ALLEN MILLER, Petitioner and Appellant,
v.
DARIN YOUNG, WARDEN, S.D. STATE PENITENTIARY, Respondent and Appellee.

          CONSIDERED ON BRIEFS ON MARCH 19, 2018

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST JUDICIAL CIRCUIT BON HOMME COUNTY, SOUTH DAKOTA THE HONORABLE CHERYLE W. GERING Judge

          JASON RAVNSBORG of Harmelink, Fox & Ravnsborg Law Office Yankton, South Dakota Attorneys for petitioner and appellant.

          MARTY J. JACKLEY Attorney General

          KELLY MARNETTE Assistant Attorney General Pierre, South Dakota Attorneys for respondent and appellee.

          SEVERSON, JUSTICE.

         [¶1.] In this habeas appeal, defendant asserts that the circuit court's errors in the jury selection process are structural rather than procedural and warrant a new trial. Defendant also claims that his counsel was ineffective at trial and on direct appeal regarding the errors in the jury selection process. We affirm.

         Background

         [¶2.] On January 30, 2013, a jury found Chris Miller guilty of the second- degree murder and aggravated assault of his four-month-old son. We affirmed Miller's convictions in State v. Miller, 2014 S.D. 49, 851 N.W.2d 703. In November 2014, Miller filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus asserting multiple errors from the underlying case. This appeal concerns Miller's claim that structural errors occurred during the jury selection process. In Miller's view, the jury selection process was so fundamentally flawed that it affected the framework within which the trial proceeded, necessitating a new trial.

         [¶3.] The record reveals that jury selection occurred over the course of two days. The circuit court informed the parties that there would be 12 jurors and 3 alternates. The court also gave each side 22 peremptory strikes. To achieve these numbers, the court determined that there needed to be 59 qualified jurors after voir dire and prior to the strike-down (12 jurors plus 3 alternates plus 44 peremptory strikes equals 59). The court planned to call 200 potential jurors. The potential jurors were assigned a number and divided into four groups, which groups were to be called in four different panels.

         [¶4.] On January 17, 2013, the first morning of jury selection, 31 potential jurors appeared. After voir dire, 6 jurors were excused for cause, leaving 25 qualified jurors on the clerk's final juror list. During the afternoon, 39 potential jurors appeared. After voir dire, 10 jurors were excused for cause, leaving 29 qualified jurors on the clerk's final juror list. With 54 qualified jurors after the first day of jury selection, the court noted that 5 more jurors needed to be qualified during the second day to reach the required 59 qualified jurors.

         [¶5.] On January 18, the second morning of jury selection, 45 jurors appeared, including juror #108. Juror #108 had been scheduled to appear on the first afternoon of jury selection but did not appear. The record does not indicate why he was absent. After voir dire on the second day, 18 jurors were excused for cause, leaving 27 potential jurors. Because only 5 qualified jurors were needed, the circuit court drew a line on the clerk's final juror list intending to designate 59 jurors qualified for selection. The court mistakenly drew the line after the 60th qualified name on the list instead of after the 59th name. Neither the parties nor the circuit court were aware of the mistake when it happened.

         [¶6.] After designating the jurors qualified for selection, the circuit judge gave the State the final juror list and left the courtroom. The parties alternated exercising peremptory strikes, with the State exercising its first strike on the 60th name on the list (juror #117). After both sides used their 22 peremptory strikes, they realized that 16 potential jurors remained, rather than 15 (12 jurors and 3 alternates). The parties brought the error to the circuit court's attention. The court realized that the 60th name on the list (juror #117) should not have been included because the court intended to include only 59 names on the list. Based on statements made by counsel for the State, the circuit court determined that if the error had not occurred, the State would have stricken juror #108. The court, therefore, suggested that juror #108 be stricken. Miller objected but did not propose a substitute resolution. Ultimately, the court declared the State's first peremptory strike (juror #117) "invalid" and struck juror #108.

         [¶7.] Miller's case proceeded to trial, and the jury found Miller guilty of both offenses. The court sentenced Miller to life in prison for the murder conviction and fifty years in prison for the conviction of aggravated assault, with the sentences to be served consecutively. Although Miller appealed, he did not challenge the jury selection process. He, however, asserted to the habeas court ...


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