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Disgraced Gretna Councilman Loses Peremptory Strike Appeal

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 06, 2012 4:15 PM

It may be time for disgraced Gretna Councilman Jonathan Bolar to start nesting in his jail cell. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Bolar's corruption convictions and 17-year sentence this week, reports WWL-TV.

Witnesses testified during Bolar's 2009 trial that he extorted and tried to extort them for cash "campaign contributions" in exchange for his support for their business and residential projects before the Gretna City Council, reports the Times-Picayune. Bolar claimed that the witnesses were lying. The jury believed the government's witnesses, and convicted Bolar on 13 counts of extortion, wire fraud, failure to file tax returns, and structuring financial transactions to evade reporting requirements.

Bolar challenged his conviction in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing, among other things, that the district court clearly erred in denying his Batson challenge.

In Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court ruled that prosecutors may not use peremptory challenges to dismiss jurors solely on the basis of race, and established a three-step process for evaluation of a defendant's claim that a prosecutor used peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner.

Under the Batson test, the challenger must first make a prima facie showing of discriminatory jury selection. Then the burden then shifts to the party accused of discrimination to provide a race-neutral and honest explanation for its strikes. Finally, the trial court "must determine whether the defendant has carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination."

The Fifth Circuit denied Bolar's peremptory strike appeal because he couldn't show that the government had engaged in purposeful discrimination. Bolar asserted that five of six jurors struck by the government were African American, but failed to establish a discriminatory motive. Furthermore, the government declined to exercise one of its peremptory challenges, and four of the sitting jurors were African American. The court found Bolar's arguments that the government's race-neutral explanations were mere pretext unavailing.

Since Bolar failed to show that the district court erred in denying his Batson challenge, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. Do you think he'll ask the Supreme Court to review the case, or will he quietly serve the remaining 15 years of his sentence?

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