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Allen v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

June 6, 2017

BOBBY LEE ALLEN A/K/A BOBBY LEE ALLEN, JR. A/K/A BOBBY ALLEN A/K/A BOBBY ALLEN, JR. APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/02/2013

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: GEORGE T. HOLMES

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: SCOTT STUART

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: MICHAEL GUEST

          BEFORE GRIFFIS, P.J., FAIR AND WILSON, JJ.

          GRIFFIS, P.J.

         ¶1. In this appeal, Bobby Lee Allen asserts that the Madison County Circuit Court erred when it sustained the State's objections to his peremptory strikes of two potential jurors. He also challenges the sufficiency of evidence to convict him of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Upon review, we find no error and affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On April 30, 2012, Allen and two other males drove to an apartment complex in Ridgeland, Mississippi. Allen, the driver of the vehicle, waited in the car as the other two men robbed and shot Jose Gurrola Ortiz. When the men returned to the vehicle, Allen drove away from the scene. Allen was indicted for armed robbery, accessory after the fact to murder, and conspiracy to commit armed robbery, in violation of Mississippi Code Annotated sections 97-3-79, 97-1-5, and 97-1-1 (Rev. 2014).

         ¶3. During the investigation phase, Allen provided multiple statements to the detectives. He confessed to driving the men to the location, and he admitted that he heard the gunshot. But Allen claimed to have no prior knowledge of the robbery plot. He told investigators that one of the men offered him gas money in exchange for a ride to a girl's home. Allen provided specific details about the crimes and admitted that he split the money with the men. Allen was arrested after he provided his final statement.

         ¶4. During jury-selection proceedings, the State challenged Allen's six peremptory strikes against Caucasian males. The State claimed the strikes were racially motivated and improperly based on gender. Allen took issue with two jurors in particular and argued that both of the potential jurors displayed disinterested mannerisms or body language. The circuit judge found that Allen's explanations were insufficient and neither race- nor gender-neutral.

         ¶5. After a two-day trial, Allen was convicted on all counts. On May 2, 2013, he was sentenced to concurrent sentences of forty years. On appeal, counsel for Allen argues that the circuit court erred when it overruled the peremptory strikes. Allen, in a supplemental pro se brief, argues that the evidence was insufficient to convict him of Count I, armed robbery, and Count III, conspiracy to commit armed robbery. Allen does not appeal the sufficiency of the evidence as to Count II, accessory after the fact to murder.

         ANALYSIS

         I. Batson Challenge

         6. Allen argues that the circuit court erred when it overruled his peremptory strikes as race- and gender-biased. He challenges the circuit court's determination that body language is not a neutral justification. Allen asserts that the Mississippi Supreme Court has recognized that body language and demeanor are in fact race- and gender-neutral reasons to exercise a peremptory strike. Allen further contends that he justified the strikes when he explained that both men appeared disinterested and predisposed to the notion that he was guilty. Finally, Allen concludes that the trial court's decision was erroneous because the record provides no evidence of inherent discrimination. Thus, he claims he is entitled to a new trial on all counts of conviction.

         ¶7. "The trial judge acts as finder of fact when a Batson issue arises." Avant v. State, 910 So.2d 695, 698 (¶11) (Miss. Ct. App. 2005) (citation omitted). "This Court gives great deference to the trial court's findings of whether or not a peremptory challenge was race-neutral." Anthony v. State, 108 So.3d 419, 424 (¶18) (Miss. Ct. App. 2012) (reversed on other grounds). "[W]e will not overrule a trial court on a Batson ruling unless the record indicates that the ruling was clearly erroneous or against the overwhelming weight of the evidence." Id.

         ¶8. During voir dire, Allen attempted to strike six jurors, and the State objected on the basis that all of the strikes were against Caucasian males. The circuit court reviewed the peremptory challenges and asked Allen to provide race- and gender-neutral reasons for the strikes. Allen offered several reasons, and the State conceded four of the strikes. For the remaining two potential jurors, the following exchange took place:

Court: So it does appear that all six of the challenges exercised by the Defense was against white males. There was one white male that was accepted. However, . . . I do think that that shows a pattern in that all of the six challenges were utilized against white males so that I will ask the Defense to give me a race-neutral reason for the strike as to Juror Number 3.
. . . .
Defense: Your Honor, I believe it was this particular one that was more or less the mannerism and just that individual just showed a general disinterest in what was going on, in my opinion.
Court: What says the State?
Prosecutor: Your Honor, we would say that it requires more than that. Under the case law, under body language, you know, under Canon, it's arms folded; under Manning, it's arms folded; under Walters, rolled eyes. I'm not ...

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