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2004-UP-045 - State v. Atchison

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

The State,        Respondent,

v.

Craig L. Atchison # 1,        Appellant.


Appeal From Newberry County
James W. Johnson, Jr., Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-045
Submitted November 19, 2003 – Filed January 21, 2004


AFFIRMED


Assistant Appellate Defender Tara S. Taggart, Office of Appellate Defense, of Columbia, for Appellant.

Attorney General Henry Dargan McMaster, Chief Deputy Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant Deputy Attorney General Charles H. Richardson, Assistant Attorney General W. Rutledge Martin, all of Columbia;  and Solicitor William Townes Jones, of Greenwood, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  Appellant, Craig L. Atchison, was convicted of burglary in the second degree and petit larceny.  The trial judge sentenced Atchison to consecutive terms of fifteen years on the burglary charge and three years on the larceny charge.  We affirm.

FACTUAL/PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Atchison was tried before a jury on January 17, 2002, for burglary and larceny involving the home and personal goods of Jodi Sutton.  Following jury selection, Atchison objected and made a Batson motion requesting the solicitor give race-neutral explanations for the striking of three black males, jurors 23, 52 and 22.  The solicitor responded that he struck juror number 23 "because he does have a magistrate’s court conviction of public intoxication, DUI.” And that he struck juror number 52 "because he had a magistrate’s court conviction for multiple counts of fraudulent checks and also a DUI.”  As to juror number 22, the following colloquy occurred:

[Solicitor]:  And number 22 was Edward Chalmers.  I don’t have any indication Mr. Chalmers has a record.  But in my discussions with Lieutenant Boland, Lieutenant Boland tells me that he has been on several calls regarding Mr., Mr. Chalmers’ niece and on those calls Mr. Chalmers was there and Mr. Boland dealt with him.  He essentially, for lack of a better term, he hangs with the wrong crowd and he’s not the type of individual the State would prefer to have on this jury to hear this case.

[The Court]:  All right.  Mr. Jenkins, you want to be heard on any or all of those?

[Defense Counsel]:  Yes, sir, your Honor.  On number 22.

[The Court]:  23?  22, Chalmers.

[Defense Counsel]:  The last one, Mr. Chalmers.  The Solicitor indicated that the defendant hangs with the wrong crowd and indicated that the officer had some type of interaction with him.  He did not allege any improper conduct or anything that would lead the court to believe that it was a racially neutral reason.  The hanging with the wrong crowd is simply saying that he’s been where officers have been before.  They didn’t offer any information as to his actions or interactions.  I would submit that the reason for striking him is not racially neutral.

[The Court]:  All right.  Mr. Peace, you want to be heard?

[Solicitor]:  Well, your Honor, I don’t have to give any other facts, I mean, on its face is the fact that the police have dealt with him and they inform me based on those dealings that he’s not the type of individual that we want sitting on the jury.  I don’t care if he’s black or white.  If they dealt with him and the dealings haven’t been satisfactory, I think that’s a sufficient reason for us to exercise a challenge.  And I think that’s a racial neutral reason.

[The Court]:  All right, Mr. Jenkins, anything further?

[Defense Counsel]:  No, sir, your Honor.

[The Court]:  All right.  I find that the State has given sufficient racially neutral reasons for having exercised the strikes on juror number 23, 52, and 22.  And the jury as selected will stand.

Following submission of the case to the jury, Atchison was convicted of second-degree burglary and petit larceny. 

LAW/ANALYSIS

On appeal, Atchison contends the trial judge erred in refusing to quash the jury, as it was seated in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).  He asserts the explanation given by the solicitor was not racially neutral, but it was akin to saying the venireman "shucked and jived,” an explanation which has been found to demonstrate an impermissible subjective intent to discriminate.  We disagree. 

In State v. Haigler, 334 S.C. 623, 515 S.E.2d 88 (1999), our Supreme Court set forth the following relevant law where a Batson motion is concerned:

A Batson hearing is conducted in the following manner.  First, the trial judge must hold a Batson hearing when members of a cognizable racial group or gender are struck and the opposing party requests a hearing.  Second, the proponent of the strike must present a race- or gender-neutral explanation.  At this second step, the proponent of the strike no longer is required to offer a reason that is race or gender-neutral and clear, reasonably specific, and legitimate.  The reason must only be race- or gender-neutral.  Third, the opponent of the strike must show that the race- or gender-neutral explanation given was mere pretext.  The burden of persuading the court that a Batson violation has occurred remains at all times on the opponent of the strike.

*        *        *

Whether a party’s proffered reason for exercising a peremptory strike is discriminatory must be determined by examining the totality of the facts and circumstances in the record.

Id. at 629, 515 S.E.2d at 90-91 (citations omitted). 

Unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the proponent’s explanation at the second step, the reason offered will be deemed race-neutral.  State v. Tucker, 334 S.C. 1, 8, 512 S.E.2d 99, 102 (1999).  Further, a trial judge’s determination regarding purposeful discrimination rests largely on his evaluation of demeanor and credibility, and because the demeanor of the challenged attorney is often the best and only evidence of possible discrimination, the evaluation lies peculiarly within the trial judge’s province.  State v. Shuler, 344 S.C. 604, 615-16, 545 S.E.2d 805, 810 (2001).  Thus, the appellate court must give the trial judge’s findings great deference, and review the judge’s ruling under a clearly erroneous standard.  Id. at 615, 545 S.E.2d at 810.

The Solicitor explained he struck Mr. Chalmers because (1) he "hangs with the wrong crowd and he’s not the type of individual the State would prefer to have on this jury” and (2) the investigating officer on the case had dealt with him and those dealings had been unsatisfactory.  We discern no discriminatory intent inherent in the Solicitor’s explanation.  See State v. Haigler, 334 S.C. at 630, 515 S.E.2d at 91 (prosecutor’s primary reason for striking potential juror, because lead detective in case knew her to be a high-strung, critical person who would be a polarizing force on the jury, was a race-neutral reason for the strike); State v. Smith, 321 S.C. 471, 474, 469 S.E.2d 57, 59 (Ct. App. 1996) (trooper’s personal contact with the venirepersons or family members on previous occasions and his obvious belief they may be biased against law enforcement or otherwise partial to defendant were legitimate and racially neutral, and were related to his views concerning the outcome of the case to be tried); State v. Richburg, 304 S.C. 162, 163-64, 403 S.E.2d 315, 317 (1991) (officer’s apparent knowledge that venireperson had anti-law enforcement bias found to be legitimate race-neutral reason for strike); State v. Johnson, 302 S.C. 243, 246, 395 S.E.2d 167, 168-69 (1990) (following explanations were found to be racially neutral and sufficient to withstand Batson inquiry:  (1) juror’s neighbor had been arrested by one of the officers involved in the case; (2) juror lived near and frequented an establishment which has had great conflict with the law enforcement of the county; (3) juror lived next door to and had a close relationship with a man who had recently been convicted of a drug offense).

For the foregoing reasons, Atchison’s conviction is

AFFIRMED.

HUFF, STILWELL, and BEATTY, JJ., concur.