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Lewis v. State

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

March 13, 2018

WALTER CORNEILUS LEWIS A/K/A WALTER CORNELIUS LEWIS A/K/A WALTER C. LEWIS A/K/A WALTER LEWIS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI APPELLEE

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 12/08/2016

         COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HARRISON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT HON. CHRISTOPHER LOUIS SCHMIDT

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER BY: JUSTIN TAYLOR COOK

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL BY: BILLY L. GORE

          DISTRICT ATTORNEY: JOEL SMITH

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

          BARNES, J.

         ¶1. A Harrison County jury convicted Walter Lewis of one count of possession of cocaine. The trial court sentenced him as a habitual offender to six years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC). Lewis appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in denying his Batson[1] challenge during jury selection. Finding no error, we affirm.

         STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         ¶2. On December 16, 2014, detectives with the narcotics division of the Gulfport Police Department were making a routine patrol in an unmarked police vehicle in a neighborhood that had numerous drug complaints. The detectives observed Lewis, when he saw the detective's vehicle, toss a small green pill container to the ground which contained an "off-white rock-like object" consistent with crack cocaine. Lewis was taken into custody. Lab tests later showed the container held approximately one gram of cocaine. Lewis was charged with possession of cocaine and pleaded not guilty. He claimed the drugs were not his and he was merely waiting for a ride.

         ¶3. After a jury trial, Lewis was convicted of the charge and was sentenced to six years in the custody of the MDOC as both a habitual and subsequent offender.[2] Lewis filed a post-trial motion for a new trial or, alternatively, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), raising the Batson issue, among others, but the trial court denied his motion. Lewis appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         ¶4. On appeal, Lewis raises only the Batson issue, claiming the trial court used an incorrect legal standard in denying his challenge. He argues the jury composition violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

         ¶5. Early in the jury selection process, the defense raised a Batson challenge after the State used its first two peremptory strikes against two African-American women. The defense claimed there was a "clear pattern" of discrimination and thus requested race-neutral reasons for the strikes. The State responded that it had already accepted an African-American female juror.[3] The trial judge ruled that the defense had not made a prima facie case by showing the State's first two peremptory strikes were for a discriminatory purpose, overruling the Batson challenge "at this time." Jury selection was completed; the defendant never renewed his Batson objection. ...


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