Criminal Appellate Decisions – Court of Appeals of Mississippi – 4/11/2023


4/11/2023 – Hand Down List and Published Opinions

Cedric Andreal Blackmore v. State of Mississippi – PCR – Blackmore pled guilty to 2 counts of aggravated DUI and was sentenced to 2 concurrent terms of 25 years in the custody of MDOC with 10 years suspended and 15 years to serve followed by 5 years of post-release supervision. He was classified as a violent offender under MS. Code Ann. Section 97-3-2(1)(a). Blackmore filed a PCR arguing his classification as a violent offender was unconstitutional under Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1 (2004). The circuit court denied Blackmore’s motion, and he appealed. Blackmore argued that the Leocal decision prohibits Mississippi from crimes that do not require a particular mental state as “crimes of violence.” The Court disagreed and noted that the USSC was clear in Leocal that its holding was confined to whether the Florida statute was a crime of violence that could trigger federal deportation proceedings. The Leocal decision does not prohibit states from passing laws designating aggravated DUI as a crime of violence. The COA affirmed the trial court’s denial of the post-conviction relief.

Christopher Smith v. State of Mississippi – Murder – Batson Challenge – A jury convicted Smith of first-degree murder for the shooting of Nakisa Benson. On appeal, Smith argued that the trial court did not conduct a proper Batson analysis for his peremptory strikes of Jurors 8, 10, 16, and 30 because the trial court did not require the State to prove Smith’s proffered race-neutral reasons were pretext for discrimination.

As to Juror 8 (white), Smith proffered race neutral reasons for the strike of age and employment. The State explained that Smith included a Juror 5, who is black, who was of a similar age and employment. The Court held that the trial judge found Smith’s proffered reason was pretext even though he did not clearly state it on the record. As to Juror 16, Smith’s proffered race neutral reason for the strike contained the fact that Smith was black and the Juror 16 was a white cattle farmer. The Court held that the trial judge did not err when it failed to ask the State for a pretext argument and placed the juror back on the venire. As to Juror 10, Smith’s proffered race-neutral reason was because he believed the juror was a teacher. Employment has been held to be a valid race-neutral reason. The State responded that Juror 10 actually was employed at Academy Sports. The trial judge did not articulate specific findings of pretext for Juror 10. The Court held that Smith was incorrect about Juror 10’s employment, because a review of the juror information card included the words “academy” followed by two other words that “support the State’s position to read ‘sports and outdoors.’” As to Juror 30, Smith’s proffered race-neutral reasons were conceded as a mistake of fact. Specifically, Smith’s counsel stated “I stand corrected” when the State responded to his race-neutral reason for the strike. The Court held that the response of “I stand corrected,” can be construed to mean that Smith withdrew his strike. As a result, the Court held that the trial court did not err and affirmed the conviction.

In his dissent, Justice McCarty relied on the MS Supreme Court’s recent unanimous decision (Miles) in a reverse-Batson challenge case. In Miles, the MSSC held that the proper remedy for a trial court’s failure to conduct the third step of the Batson analysis with is to remand for a hearing, limited to using the record as it existed at the time of the original Batson hearing for the proper Batson analysis to be completed. The dissent notes the approach by the majority creates an exception to precedent that is less than a year old and crafted by the Supreme Court.

Richard A. Simoneaux v. State of Mississippi (Pro Se PCR)

Michael Holliday v. State of Mississippi – PCR

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