Leaving intact one of the longest prison sentences in Alameda County history, a divided federal appeals court on Friday rejected the arguments of an Oakland man who claimed his 2004 rape trial was tainted because prosecutors relied on race to exclude African-American jurors.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals let stand the 265-years-to-life sentence of Averill Briggs, who was convicted of sexual assault charges for a brutal 2002 attack on two teenage girls in East Oakland. The Alameda County judge who sentenced Briggs called his crimes "heinous" and "cruel" and told him "a person like you does not deserve to be out in public."
But Briggs' lawyers have always maintained that prosecutors deliberately bumped three African-American jurors from the jury pool, leaving no blacks on a jury to decide an African-American defendant's fate. Briggs argued on appeal that the maneuver violated a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding the use of race as a factor in jury selection.
In a 2-1 ruling written by 9th Circuit Judge Richard Tallman, the appeals court rejected those arguments, noting that the trial judge, Joan Cartwright, reviewed the issue and found no bias in the prosecutors' jury selection.
9th Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon, however, dissented, saying there was strong evidence prosecutors challenged the only three available African-American jurors based on race. Berzon said the convictions should be reversed.
Mark Eibert, Briggs' lawyer, could not immediately be reached for comment. He can ask the 9th Circuit to reconsider the case with an 11-judge panel, or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz