State v. Martin

State v. Martin, 773 N.W.2d 89 (Minn. 2009)

A Minnesota court sentenced defendant-appellant Lamonte Martin to life without the possibility of release (LWOR) for first-degree premeditated murder. Martin, a young African American man, was only 17-years-old at the time of the crime. On appeal, Martin argued that the prosecutor improperly “inflamed the jurors’ racial prejudices” when the prosecutor told the jury, “Welcome to the real world of gangs and gang violence. This is what happens on the streets of North Minneapolis.” Id. at 107. The majority opinion rejected this argument, ruling that a prosecutor is only prohibited from making explicit references to a defendant’s racial or socioeconomic status under Minnesota law. This ruling therefore allows Minnesota’s prosecutors to convey stereotypes to jurors.

Martin also asserted the prosecution impermissibly removed an African American potential juror from the jury pool for non-race neutral reasons. On this point, he first argued that trial courts “should be alert for a prosecutor’s subconscious, implicit bias, in addition to the more obvious and explicit purposeful discrimination.” Martin at 102. Citing precedent, the majority rejected this argument and wrote, “We see no reason to extend existing [jury selection] law to include ‘implicit bias.’” Id. Second, Martin argued that prosecutors should not be allowed to remove a potential juror for expressing reservations about the criminal justice system’s treatment of minorities because minorities are disproportionately removed from jury service for doing so. The majority rejected this argument, ruling that only intentional racial discrimination is prohibited in the jury selection process. See id. at 102-03.

However, two Justices disagreed with the majority’s conclusion. First, the dissent cited a report by the court’s own task force on racism indicating nearly 75% of professionals working in the Minnesota judicial system perceive courtroom bias against minorities. Id. at 110. The dissent therefore disagreed that the views of the removed juror could constitute a permissible, race-neutral reason for removing him, pointing out a White woman who voiced similar concerns served on the jury that convicted Martin. Thus, the dissenting justices believed the prosecution excluded a potential African American juror because he might “overcompensate and sympathize with the African-American defendant.” Id. at 111. The dissent asserted this was an unconstitutional justification for excluding a potential juror.