Lark v. Secretary PA Dep't. of Corrs., No. 07-9004 (3d Cir. 2011)Annotate this Case
In 1985, defendant was found guilty of first-degree murder, terroristic threats, and kidnapping, and sentenced to death. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed. While a state post-conviction petition was pending, a video was released, showing the prosecutor instructing colleagues to exclude potential jurors on the basis of race. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed denial of relief. Defendant's second state petition was rejected as untimely. After an evidentiary hearing, the federal district court granted habeas corpus. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded. Although timely objection is a prerequisite to a "Batson" claim, even for cases decided before Batson, the defense did raise a timely objection. The response that it was impossible to determine the race of jurors and that counsel did not have to give reasons for peremptory challenges was refusal to conduct equal protection analysis, not a finding of fact entitled to deference. The state Post Conviction Relief Act time bar was not regularly followed or firmly established at the time of defendant’s procedural default in 1996; the district court properly allowed an evidentiary hearing despite that default. The defendant established a prima facie Batson violation that the state did not rebut, but the court held that remand for analysis of other evidence relevant to intentional discrimination is preferable to overturning a 25-year-old jury verdict which the state has upheld against numerous challenges and which was predicated on substantial evidence, merely because it would be possible to infer discrimination in jury selection.