Batson v. Kentucky

Facts:

When selecting a jury, both parties may remove potential jurors using an unlimited number of challenges for cause (e.g., stated reasons such as bias) and a limited number of peremptory challenges (i.e., do not need to state a reason).

At the trial of James Kirkland Batson for burglary and receipt of stolen goods, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to remove all four African Americans from the jury pool. Batson challenged the removal of these jurors as violating his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The jury convicted petitioner on both counts.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Kentucky affirmed the convictions. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

Issue:

Whether the use of peremptory challenges to remove a potential juror from the jury pool based on race violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution?

Ruling:

Yes.

Reasoning:

In a 7–2 decision, the Court held that, while a defendant is not entitled to have a jury completely or partially composed of people of his own race, the state is not permitted to use its peremptory challenges to automatically exclude potential members of the jury because of their race. "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."

"The harm from discriminatory jury selection extends beyond that inflicted on the defendant and the excluded juror to touch the entire community. Selection procedures that purposefully exclude black persons from juries undermine public confidence in the fairness of our system of justice."

A defendant in a criminal case can make an Equal Protection claim based on the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges at a defendant's trial. Once the defendant makes a showing that race was the reason potential jurors were excluded, the burden shifts to the state to come forward with a race-neutral explanation for the exclusion.