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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

This case addresses the following issues:

  1. May a prosecutor use their peremptory challenges to exclude members of the same race as the defendant on the basis of the assumption that they will be biased because they share the same race?
  2. What elements are required to show a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in selection of the veniremen?

The issue in this case includes whether the prosecutor’s use of his peremptory challenges to exclude four African Americans from the jury trying a black defendant denied the defendant’s right to equal protection. The Equal Protection Clause forbids States to strike black veniremen on the assumption that they will be biased in a particular case simply because they are the same race of the defendant. Id. at 97. To establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in the selection of the petit jury solely on concerning the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory challenges at the defendant’s trial, the defendant must show that: (1) the defendant is a member of a racial group capable of being singled out for differential treatment, and (2) the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges to remove the venire members of the defendant’s race. Id. at 96. The defendant may rely on the fact that the peremptory challenges constitute a jury selection practice that permits “those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate.” Id. The defendant must also show that these facts, in addition with any other relevant circumstance, raise an inference that the prosecutor used that practice to exclude the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race. Id. Further, a defendant may make this showing relying solely on the facts concerning its selection in his specific case because a consistent pattern of official racial discrimination is not a necessary predicate to a violation of the Equal Protection Clause. Id. at 93. Once the defendant makes the prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the State to come forth with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors. Id. at 97. The prosecutor may not rebut the alleged discrimination by simply stating that he challenged the jurors of the defendant’s race on the assumption that they would be partial to the defendant because of their shared race. Id.

In this case, the defendant was an African American and the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike all four African Americans on the venire. Id. at 83. The defense counsel moved to discharge the jury before it was sworn on the basis that the prosecutor’s use of his peremptory challenges to remove all the African American veniremen violated the defendant’s rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to a jury drawn from a cross section of the community. Id. The trial court judge did not expressly rule on the request for a hearing on the motion and instead stated that the parties were entitled to use their peremptory challenges to “strike anybody they want to.” Id. at 84. This Court stated on appeal, that due to the flat out rejection to the objection without requiring the prosecutor to give an explanation, the case must be remanded. Id. at 100. The Court concluded that if the trial court decides that the facts establishes a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination and the prosecutor does not provide a neutral explanation for his peremptory challenges, then the defendant’s convictions must be reversed. Id.

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