Monday, February 19, 2018

KYSC - Sifuentes - Batson - non-unanimous verdict

Fernando Sifuentes v.Commonwealth, 16-SC-485-MR (rendered 2/15/18)(not to be published).  

Sifuentes was convicted of first degree rape, first degree sodomy, and incest.  The Court reversed Sifuentes’ convictions and sentence and remanded for a new trial for two reasons.

First, Mr. Jimenez was the sole Latino on the jury pool.  The Commonwealth used a peremptory strike on him.  When the defense challenged the removal under Batson, the prosecutor merely responded he looked “belligerent” and “hostile” when he glanced at the Commonwealth’s counsel table. The Court found a Batson violation:  “Although an observation of a juror's body language or demeanor may properly prompt a peremptory challenge, to avoid a Batson violation, counsel must state with reasonable specificity how that particular body language forms the basis of the challenge.”  Because the prosecutor offered no explanation as to why Jimenez’s hostile expression made him an unfit juror, the trial court could not have found that the reason was legitimate under step three of Batson

Second, the bare bones jury instructions given by the court on the rape and sodomy counts were duplicative and resulted in non-unanimous verdicts. The instructions provided no specificity, and included a three year range of time.  “However, the jury was not presented with any specific act or a specific date of either rape or sodomy instance upon which to base a conviction. B.M.'s testimony as to a three-year time frame in which dozens of instances of inappropriate sexual behavior are alleged to have occurred does not support one count of each crime.”   

Emily Rhorer of Appeals represented Sifuentes on direct appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court.