Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, October 21, 2005

Ochoa: No Batson "pattern" vs. hispanics

In U.S. v. Ochoa-Vasquez, No. 03-14400 (Oct. 20, 2005), the Court (Hull, Edenfield b.d., Barkett dissenting), the Court affirmed the conviction and sentence for drug trafficking.
The Court rejected the argument that certain documents in a related case should have been unsealed, because they involved a potential witness. The Court noted that most of the documents had been unsealed, and that Ochoa’s renewed motion to unseal had failed to specify the new grounds for the unsealing in violation of the Local Rule, which requires the different facts for a renewed motion to be stated by the movant. Further, the failure to unseal the documents did not prejudice Ochoa, because he failed to show he would have called the potential witness, and the Court’s own review of the documents did not reveal anything exonerating Ochoa.
The Court agreed with Ochoa that the district court’s "sealed docket" violated the Court’s caselaw regarding open trials, but found no prejudice because the district court ultimately unsealed most of the documents, and the other documents did not contain exonerating material.
The Court upheld the district court’s decision to empanel an anonymous jury, noting Ochoa’s link to an organized criminal organization and past efforts to obstruct justice by killing informants.
The Court rejected Ochoa’s Batson challenge to the government’s use of peremptory challenges against Hispanic venirepersons. Ochoa’s challenge rested on the percentage of strikes used to eliminate Hispanic jurors. But the district court found that it could not ascertain which anonymous venirepersons were Hispanic, and the Court deferred to that finding. The Court noted that the better practice would be to disclose to the parties beforehand, in anonymous jury cases, the self-reported ethnicity of potential jurors. Moreover, even if the district court could in fact determine the ethnicity of the stricken jurors, Ochoa failed to show a "pattern" of strikes. The government used five of its nine strikes against Hispanics, but accepted six; Ochoa struck seven of 13.