Nevada Supreme Court orders new trial in child abuse case

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James Marlin Cooper will get a new trial on charges of domestic battery and child abuse after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled there was race-based discrimination in his jury selection.

Cooper was convicted of two counts of child abuse/neglect and one count each of battery by strangulation and domestic battery against the female victim and her two children at the Las Vegas apartment they shared.

During jury selection, the state used two of its five peremptory challenges to remove African American women from the jury panel. There were only three African American jurors in the pool selected for the trial and the opinion points out Cooper is African American.

The opinion by Justice Lidia Stiglich says the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits using peremptory challenges to strike a juror based on race. She wrote in this case, the prosecution used a disproportionate percentage of its challenges against African American jurors, resulting in at least an inference of purposeful discrimination.

But she noted there’s no record of the prosecution’s reasons for removing those two jurors because the state declined to do so.

“The silence as to the state’s reasons for exercising the two challenged peremptory strikes is particularly problematic in this case because the state posed a question with race-based implications during voir dire: it asked whether any of the (jury pool) members had strong opinions about the Black Lives Matter movement,” the opinion states. “The question had, at best, minimal relevance to the circumstances of this case.”

The high court sent the case back to district court for a new trial.


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