Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Second Division
Appeal from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis 1222-CR04018-01 Honorable Margaret M. Neill
MARY K. HOFF, JUDGE.
Roscoe R. Meeks (Defendant) appeals from the judgment upon his convictions by a jury for one count of assault in the first degree, in violation of Section 565.050, RSMo 2000,  and one count of armed criminal action, in violation of Section 571.015. The trial court sentenced Defendant as a prior and persistent offender to twenty-years' imprisonment for assault and ten-years' imprisonment for armed criminal action, to be served concurrently. We affirm as modified.
Factual and Procedural Background
Defendant was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action after shooting Victim, a Spanish-speaking immigrant with a limited comprehension of English, at an apartment complex in the City of St. Louis. During the three-day jury trial, the State called as witnesses Victim, Victim's friend, Victim's ex-girlfriend, and Detective Brian North-Murphy. Defendant did not testify and did not present any evidence.
Following the trial court's denial of motions for judgment of acquittal at the close of State's evidence and all evidence, the jury found Defendant guilty of both first-degree assault and armed criminal action. The court found that Defendant was a prior and persistent offender and sentenced Defendant to a total of twenty-years imprisonment. This appeal follows. Additional facts will be set forth in the opinion as necessary to address Defendant's points on appeal.
In his first point, Defendant argues the trial court clearly erred in denying his Batson challenge to the State's peremptory strike of an African-American venireperson because the record refutes the State's proffered reasons for the strike. We disagree.
We review a trial court ruling on a Batson challenge for clear error. State v. McFadden, 191 S.W.3d 648, 651 (Mo. banc 2006). "A finding is clearly erroneous when the reviewing court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." McFadden, 191 S.W.3d at 651.
Under Batson, peremptorily striking venirepersons for no other reason than their race violates a defendant's right to equal protection under the law. Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). In order to make a proper Batson challenge, a defendant must make a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination; namely, that the defendant belongs to a cognizable race and that the prosecutor exercised peremptory strikes to remove members of the defendant's race from the jury. State v. Parker, 836 S.W.2d 930, 933-34 (Mo. banc 1992).
It is then for the State to rebut the prima facie case by offering a race-neutral explanation for the strike. Id. at 934. "Unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the prosecutor's explanation, the reason offered will be deemed race-neutral....[D]isparate impact alone will not convert a facially race-neutral explanation into a per se violation of equal protection." Id. (citing Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 111 S.Ct. 1859, 114 L.Ed.2d 395 (1991)).
Finally, the defendant then bears the burden to show that the State's proffered race-neutral reasons are merely pretextual justifications for underlying discrimination. Id.; State v. Washington, 288 S.W.3d 312, 315 (Mo. App. E.D. 2009). A crucial, though not dispositive, factor in determining pretext is "the existence of similarly situated white jurors who were not struck." State v. Marlowe, 89 S.W.3d 464, 469 (Mo. banc 2002) (quoting Parker, 836 S.W.2d at 940). Other factors include the "degree of logical relevance between the proffered explanation and the case to be tried, " the prosecutor's credibility based on his or her conduct during voir dire and "the court's past experiences with the prosecutor, " and "the demeanor of the excluded venirepersons." Marlowe, 89 S.W.3d at 469-70 (quoting Parker, 836 S.W.2d at 940). The trial court must consider the totality of the circumstances in determining pretext, and we give considerable deference to the trial court's determination in light of its factual and subjective nature. See Marlowe, 89 S.W.3d at 469-70; Parker, 836 S.W.2d at 934.
During voir dire, defense counsel polled the jury on the presumption of innocence. The following exchanged then occurred:
VENIREPERSON ARNOLD: Statistically speaking, we live in the seventh most dangerous city in the United States. And I hate to go into race here. But statistically, we're in St. Louis; he's black. There's more into it, but I don't know those facts. But it's more than likely he did ...