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A defendant may establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination in selection of the petit jury based solely on the prosecutor's exercise of peremptory challenges at the defendant's trial. Once the defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the State to come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors.
The United States Supreme Court successively held (1) in Batson v Kentucky (1986) 476 US 79, 90 L Ed 2d 69, 106 S Ct 1712, that, under the equal protection clause of the Federal Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment, a state criminal defendant could establish a prima facie case of a prosecutor's purposeful racial discrimination in the selection of jurors based solely on the prosecutor's exercise, at the defendant's trial, of peremptory challenges to exclude members of the defendant's own race; and (2) in Edmonson v Leesville Concrete Co. (1991) 500 US 614, 114 L Ed 2d 660, 111 S Ct 2077, a federal civil case, that racial discrimination in a private civil litigant's exercise of peremptory challenges constituted state action which violated the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment. A Georgia grand jury indicted several white criminal defendants on charges of assault and battery against two alleged victims who were African-Americans. Before jury selection began, the prosecution moved to prohibit the defendants from exercising peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory manner. The trial judge, however, in denying the motion, expressed the view that neither Georgia law nor federal law prohibited criminal defendants from exercising peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner. On immediate appeal, the Supreme Court of Georgia, in affirming, (1) distinguished Edmonson v Leesville Concrete Co. as involving a civil action; and (2) declined, in view of what the court called the lon history of jury trials as an essential element of the protection of human rights, to diminish the free exercise of peremptory strikes by criminal defendants (261 Ga 473, 405 SE2d 688). A motion for reconsideration was denied.
Does Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause prohibit Georgia criminal defendants from engaging in purposeful racial discrimination in exercise of peremptory challenges of potential jurors?
The court held that the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause prohibits a state criminal defendant from engaging in purposeful racial discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors, because (1) such an action inflicts harm on the dignity of persons and the integrity of courts; (2) such an action constitutes state action for equal protection purposes, as (a) the claimed constitutional deprivation results from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority, (b) a defendant charged with such discrimination can be described as a state actor, and (c) the adversarial relationship between a defendant and the prosecution does not negate the governmental character of the action; (3) a prosecutor--that is, the state--has third-party standing to raise such an equal protection claim on behalf of the excluded jurors; and (4) the interests served by prohibiting such an exercise of peremptory challenges are not required to give way to the constitutional rights of a defendant, including the defendant's rights, under the Constitution's Sixth Amendment, to the effective assistance of counsel and to trial by an impartial jury.