What is a Batson Challenge?
Overview: Batson v. Kentucky,476 U.S. 79 (1986), was a case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that a prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenge in a criminal case—the dismissal of jurors without stating a valid cause for doing so—may not be used to exclude jurors based solely on their race. The Court ruled that this practice violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The case gave rise to the term Batson challenge, an objection to a peremptory challenge based on the standard established by the Supreme Court’s decision in this case.
How do you assert a Batson challenge?
STEP ONE: We must show a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in the selection of the trial jury, to do so must show that:
- Defendant is a member of a minority racial group
- And that the prosecutor used race to exclude potential jury members
This motion must occur before the jury is sworn and the defense, not the state, has the burden to perfect the record and to show the composition of the original panel, the breakdown of the strikes of both parties, and the makeup of the jury.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR:
Look to the number of total minorities on panel and then the number the prosecution strikes and who was struck. Prima facie cases have been made, where 10 of 11 strikes were used on African Americans, or when even 3 of 6 strikes on African American’s when only six were on the panel – 50% rule.
If a prima facie case is shown, the burden then shifts to the prosecution to show another reason the members were excused
STEP TWO: If it is shown that purposeful discrimination took place, then the burden will shift to the prosecution to show non race related reasons for the strikes. The trial court will then require the prosecution to provide neutral reasons that support the strikes.
Any non discriminatory reason given by the Prosecution MUST be accepted by the court.
Some reasons accepted by the courts:
- Prior arrests and convictions
- Familiarity with the case
- Sympathy for the defendant
- Nature of employment
- Unkempt physical appearance
STEP THREE: Judge then decides if we have proven discrimination
Once a race-neutral explanation has been tendered, the trial court must decided whether the discrimination has been proven. During this step the burden shifts back to the defense to prove discriminatory intent.
The Trial Court should look at the following when evaluating the Prosecution’s explanation for challenges:
- Susceptibility of the particular case to racial influences
- Statements made during Voir Dire
- Race of the victim and primary witnesses
- The prosecution’s demeanor
- Patterns of discrimination by the DA’s office
- The method of questioning and treatment of similarly situated jurors of a different race
- It appears that the trend among the Georgia Trial Courts is to seat an improperly challenged panel member, that is, one who was left off due to racial discrimination, on the actual jury for trial. Given, that the selection of the jury was done in silence, if it was openly announced in court which party struck the jurors it would be reversible error to reseat the juror who knew he or she had been subject to challenge by one of the parties.