A Note on Batson



During the criminal trial in a Kentucky state court of petitioner, a black man, the judge conducted voir dire examination of the jury venire and excused certain jurors for cause. The prosecutor then used his peremptory challenges to strike all four black persons on the venire, and a jury composed only of white persons was selected. Defense counsel moved to discharge the jury on the ground that the prosecutor's removal of the black veniremen violated petitioner's rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to a jury drawn from a cross section of the community, and under the Fourteenth Amendment to equal protection of the laws. Without expressly ruling on petitioner's request for a hearing, the trial judge denied the motion, and the jury ultimately convicted petitioner. Affirming the conviction, the Kentucky Supreme Court observed that recently, in another case, it had relied on Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 , and had held that a defendant alleging lack of a fair cross section must demonstrate systematic exclusion of a group of jurors from the venire.

1. The principle announced in Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 , that a State denies a black defendant equal protection when it puts him on trial before a jury from which members of his race have been purposefully excluded, is reaffirmed. Pp. 84-89.

(a) A defendant has no right to a petit jury composed in whole or in part of persons of his own race. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 305 .


    However, the Equal Protection Clause guarantees the defendant that the State will not exclude members of his race from the jury venire on account of race, or on the false assumption that members of his race as a group are not qualified to serve as jurors. By denying a person participation in jury service on account of his race, the State also unconstitutionally discriminates against the excluded juror. Moreover, selection procedures that purposefully exclude black persons from juries undermine public confidence in the fairness of our system of justice. Pp. 85-88.

    [Emphasis Added]

    (b) The same equal protection principles as are applied to determine whether there is discrimination in selecting the venire also govern the State's use of peremptory challenges to strike individual jurors from the petit jury. Although a prosecutor ordinarily is entitled to exercise peremptory challenges for any reason, as long as that reason is related to his view concerning the outcome of the case to be tried, the Equal Protection Clause forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race or on the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable impartially to consider the State's case against a black defendant. Pp. 88-89.



Legal Commentary

Batson v. Kentucky 476 us 79 Full Text