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Court News Ohio

Racially Biased Juror Leads to New Trial for Hamilton County Man Sentenced to Death

The Ohio Supreme Court today ordered a new trial for a Hamilton County man sentenced to death for the murder of his 2-year-old daughter because his lawyer failed to question or remove a racially biased member of the jury.

A Supreme Court majority ruled that Glen E. Bates was denied his constitutional rights to a fair and impartial jury after his attorney did not question a white juror who expressed her racial bias toward African Americans on a juror questionnaire. Writing for the Court majority, Justice Michael P. Donnelly stated that Bates demonstrated both requirements needed to earn a new trial: his lawyer’s performance was below the standards expected of attorneys in a death penalty case, and he was actually the victim of prejudice because of his attorney’s failure to question or remove the juror.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Justices Judith L. French and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice Donnelly’s opinion. The Court also issued four other opinions in the case.

Justice Patrick F. Fischer concurred in judgment only, stating the majority unnecessarily overturned the precedent set by the Court’s 2014 State v. Pickens case.

Justice French issued a concurring opinion to address the “unnecessary recounting of the torture the young victim suffered before she died” by Justice R. Patrick DeWine in his dissenting opinion. Justice Stewart joined Justice French’s opinion.

In a separate concurring opinion, Justice Stewart found that Bates’ attorney also was ineffective for failing to remove another juror, who expressed doubt about being able to be impartial.

Justice DeWine dissented from the majority’s decision vacating Bates’ conviction. To succeed on a claim that defense counsel was ineffective for failing to remove a biased juror, Justice DeWine explained that Bates was required to prove both that his attorney’s performance was deficient and that he was prejudiced by that deficient performance. According to Justice DeWine, the majority “presumed” the juror was biased based on her questionnaire, but Bates did not show prejudice because he failed to demonstrate that the juror was actually biased against him or that the results of the trial would have been different had the juror been dismissed.

Child Dies from Wounds
Glenara Bates was born to Andrea Bradley and Bates in January 2013. She was immediately placed in foster care in a home where her four older half siblings were staying. A court ordered the children returned to Bradley’s home about nine months later. In December, Bradley took Glenara to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in December 2014, when she was about 23 months old, and she was diagnosed as severely malnourished.

In March 2015, Bradley took Glenara to the children’s hospital where she was unresponsive. At the time of her death, she weighed 14 pounds.

One of Bradley’s other children told authorities that Bates swung Glenara by her legs and slammed her into the wall. Bates denied abusing the child, and after three police interviews, stated he was holding her up by her legs while playing and she slipped out of her shoes and hit her head.

A grand jury indicted Bates on one count of aggravated murder of a child under 13, one count of child endangering, and one count of felony murder. The aggravated murder charge included a death penalty specification.

The jury found him guilty of all charges and recommended a death sentence. The trial court sentenced Bates to death as well as eight years in prison for child endangerment and 15 years to life for felony murder.

Because he received a death sentence, Bates is entitled to an automatic appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Accused Claimed Ineffective Legal Assistance
Bates raised 17 legal arguments, known as propositions of law, against his conviction and sentence, including that his rights under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution were violated because he did not receive the effective assistance of counsel.

Justice Donnelly explained the U.S. Supreme Court set the standard for a viable claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in its 1984 Strickland v. Washington decision. Under Strickland, Bates had to prove his attorney’s error was so serious that it deprived him of a fair trial.

To show prejudice based on the composition of the jury, Bates had to prove a juror was “actually biased against him.” To prove bias, Bates must prove at least one juror was not “capable and willing to decide the case solely on the evidence before the jury,” the opinion stated.

Jury Questionnaire Raised Bias Concerns
The trial court empaneled more than 100 prospective jurors and provided them with written questionnaires. Juror No. 31, a white woman, responded “yes” the to the question, “Is there any racial or ethnic group you do not feel comfortable being around?” In the space to explain their answers, she wrote, “Sometimes black people.”

Another item asked for a prospective juror’s level of agreement to the statement, “Some races and/or ethnic groups tend to be more violent than others.” Juror No. 31 responded she “strongly agreed” with the statement, and in the space allotted for an explanation wrote, “Blacks.”

Hamilton County prosecutors and Bates’ lawyers were given the chance to question prospective jurors in groups of 12. Before one group of 12, Bates’ lawyer told the group that Bates was African American and asked if any of them believed his race would play a role in the trial. He stated that if it did, it would be “critically important.”

“But juror No. 31 was not part of that group of 12 prospective jurors and in fact was not even in the courtroom when defense counsel asked the foregoing questions. In fact, juror No. 31 was never questioned about Bates’s race even considering her responses on the juror questionnaire,” the majority opinion stated.

At the time juror No. 31 was questioned, Bates’ attorney had a peremptory challenge available, which would have allowed for the juror’s removal without having to explain the reason.

Lack of Challenge Leads to Bias
The majority opinion stated jury selection is the “primary means” by which a court can enforce a defendant’s right to a trial free from ethnic, racial, or political bias. Appeals courts, in general, give wide latitude to defense attorneys in determining how to best conduct voir dire. In its Pickens decision, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled a lawyer’s performance is deficient if the lawyer fails to question a juror about racially biased comments made on a questionnaire, the opinion noted. The Court stated there “appears to be no discernable reason” why Bates’ attorney would not question juror No. 31 about her comments or attempt to remove her using one of the available peremptory challenges.

When Bates’ attorney spoke to the group of 12 that included juror No. 31, he asked a general question to the group regarding whether anyone was unable to be “fair and impartial.” No one responded to the question. The Court ruled that believing the juror could be fair because she did not respond to the general question “was objectively unreasonable.”

Not questioning juror No. 31 allowed Bates to meet the first part of his claim under Strickland that his lawyer was ineffective, the Court stated. He also had to prove that the bias impacted his trial. The majority opinion explained that in Pickens, the Court ruled a lawyer’s failure to ask about a biased response on a questionnaire was deficient, but that there was no evidence that the juror was actually biased against the defendant Pickens, himself.

The majority opinion stated today it was overruling its Pickens decision, which required a defendant to show both actual racial bias and a personal bias against the defendant. The Court majority stated that proof of actual racial bias without proof of personal bias can rise to a level of “generality about a racial or ethnic group that indicates the juror’s inability to be impartial in the case before him or her.”

Because juror No. 31 was not questioned, and the juror expressed her admitted racially biased view that black people – including Bates – are inherently more violent than other people, the juror prejudiced his case.

“The prejudice to Bates is apparent—as a result of counsel’s objectively unreasonable performance during voir dire of juror No. 31, an actually biased juror sat on the jury and, therefore, Bates was denied his constitutional right to be tried before an impartial jury,” the majority opinion concluded.

The Supreme Court reversed the conviction and death sentence, and remanded the case to the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court for a new trial.

Concurrence Cites Need to Guard Against Prejudgment Based on Race
In her concurring opinion, Justice French stated it was unnecessary for the dissenting opinion to recount the details of Glenara’s death, stating a “person of ordinary conscience can hardly believe that such cruelty exists.”

“It causes anger and passion and, if allowed, a rush to judge the person of committing such heinous acts. Our job, in the face of those facts, is to ensure that all constitutional guarantees were met,” she wrote.

She stated the Court has to be “extra vigilant” in guarding against the possibility that a juror may prejudge an accusation of cruelty based on a defendant’s race.

No Need to Overturn Precedent, Concurrence Maintained
In his opinion concurring in judgment only, Justice Fischer wrote that the decision in Pickens should not be overruled because that case dealt with facts that are not similar to Bates’s case. In Pickens, the state questioned the juror whose answer to a questionnaire indicated possible racial bias. Pickens’s defense attorneys heard the answers and decided that they wanted to keep the man on the jury.

Because the juror in Bates’s case made a statement with distinct bias toward the race of the defendant, and because no one in the courtroom raised any specific question about it, Justice Fischer concluded that this case is distinct from Pickens and that Bates’s defense counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel.

Another Juror Should Have Been Removed, Concurrence Stated
During jury selection, one of the prosecutors told a group, which included juror No. 10, that the evidence in the trial was “not pleasant.” The prosecutor asked if it would cause anyone a problem with serving on the jury. Juror No. 10 responded, “I’m not sure if I can at this point.”

Later when asked again, the juror stated that as a mother of three daughters and a grandmother of an infant, “I don’t know that I could be as fair as one would be from my life situation.” In her concurring opinion, Justice Stewart noted that Bates’ attorney did not follow up with juror No. 10 or attempt to remove her.

Justice Stewart wrote that the failure to question or remove juror No. 10 allowed another actually biased juror to be on Bates’ jury, and that his lawyer was ineffective for allowing the woman to hear the case.

Personal Bias Not Proven, Dissent Stated
In his dissent, Justice DeWine wrote that the Court majority’s holding will now permit a criminal defendant to receive a new trial based on a claim that a juror was biased without having to prove that the juror was “actually biased against the defendant.” He stated the majority provided “virtually no explanation for its abandonment” of the Court’s precedent.

The dissent noted the majority concluded that Bates satisfied the first part of the Strickland test because his attorney did not ask about the juror’s race-based answers, but the majority did not require Bates to meet the second part of the test. Instead, the majority took evidence of possible bias and “presume[d] that Bates was prejudiced as a result.”

The dissent stated race was not an issue in the case, and that Bates had not shown that the presence of a possibly biased juror affected the outcome of the case. The prosecutors presented “substantial evidence” of Bates’ guilt, and Bates did not present sufficient evidence of mitigating factors that would overcome the death sentence.

2016-1783. State v. Bates, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-634.

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