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State v. Meeks

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

August 23, 2016

STATE OF MISSOURI, Respondent,
v.
ROSCOE R. MEEKS, Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS The Honorable Margaret M. Neill, Judge

          PAUL C. WILSON, JUDGE

         Roscoe Meeks was tried on charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action. Following voir dire, Meeks challenged one of the prosecutor's peremptory strikes under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The trial court overruled this challenge, the case went to trial, and the jury found Meeks guilty on both counts. On appeal, Meeks argues that the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenge. This Court has jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 10. Because the prosecutor failed to offer a race-neutral explanation for the strike, Batson requires that Meeks' convictions be vacated and his case remanded.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Allegations

         Meeks' alleged victim ("Victim") is a Mexican native. At the time of alleged crime, Victim was living in the City of St. Louis in an apartment he shared with two roommates ("Roommates"). On the morning of July 4, 2012, Roommates invited Victim to visit friends in the apartment next door. Roommates left the apartment and waited outside for Victim to join them. While they waited, a man (later identified as Meeks) approached them and said he was looking for the man who took his girlfriend.

         When Victim stepped out of the apartment carrying a can of beer, Meeks accosted him and said Victim was the man he was looking for. Victim said he did not know who Meeks was looking for and turned to walk away. Meeks then took a gun from behind his back and pointed it at the back of Victim's head. Seeing Meeks' gun, Roommates ran back into the apartment. This alerted Victim, who turned and tried to take the gun away from Meeks. During the struggle, Meeks shot Victim in the lower abdomen. As Meeks was preparing to shoot again, Victim threw the beer can at him and tried to get away. Meeks then shot Victim a second time and fled the scene.

         Police interviewed several witnesses at the scene who gave a description of Victim's assailant. These witnesses also led police to a young woman ("CC"), who had been Meeks' girlfriend and who had spent time at Victim's apartment complex because she had friends who lived there. When the police relayed the witnesses' description of Victim's assailant to CC, she agreed that it described Meeks. Following Meeks' arrest, police conducted an in-person lineup in which both Victim and one of the Roommates were able to identify Meeks. Meeks was charged with one count of assault in the first degree under section 565.050[1] and one count of armed criminal action under section 571.015.

         B. Voir Dire

         After the prosecutor concluded her voir dire of the venire, [2] defense counsel asked whether anyone would have difficulty presuming that Meeks was innocent. Venireperson A responded:

[VENIREPERSON A]: 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 something. I'm not saying - what's the word. It's more likely he's guilty.
However, I personally don't believe there's evidence backing that up. There is no weapon, there is no -
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: You don't know. We haven't gotten into the evidence yet. ….
And I don't want to open a can of worms the Judge doesn't want to open at ten to five with a few things said there. But does anyone share any of those sentiments, or is everyone able to do what the Judge is asking of them and required in the instruction and presume that [Meeks] is innocent because you haven't heard any evidence yet? Is everyone able to do that? [No responses indicated.] All right. Thank you.

         At the conclusion of voir dire, the venire was excused and the trial court heard motions to strike for cause. Among other motions, the prosecutor moved to strike Venireperson A. Defense counsel did not object, and the motion was sustained. Later, in proceedings held off the record, the prosecutor and defense counsel made their peremptory strikes.

         C. Meeks' Batson Challenge

         After the prosecutor and defense counsel announced their peremptory strikes, [3] the trial court went back on the record to hear Meeks' Batson challenge.

THE COURT: Go ahead. [Defense counsel, ] you indicated you have a Batson motion?
[DEFENSE COUNSEL]: Yes, your Honor. The State is moving to strike ...

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