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Courts apply a three-step process for evaluating claims that a prosecutor has used peremptory challenges in a manner violating the Equal Protection Clause. The analysis permits prompt rulings on objections to peremptory challenges without substantial disruption of the jury selection process. First, the defendant must make a prima facie showing that the prosecutor has exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of race. Second, if the requisite showing has been made, the burden shifts to the prosecutor to articulate a race-neutral explanation for striking the jurors in question. Finally, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination.
Counsel for petitioner Hernandez at his New York trial objected that the prosecutor had used four peremptory challenges to exclude Latino potential jurors. Two of the jurors had brothers who had been convicted of crimes, and petitioner no longer pressed his objection to exclusion of those individuals. The ethnicity of one of the other two jurors was uncertain. Without waiting for a ruling on whether petitioner had established a prima facie case of discrimination under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712, the prosecutor volunteered that he had struck these two jurors, who were both bilingual, because he was uncertain that they would be able to listen and follow the interpreter. He explained that they had looked away from him and hesitated before responding to his inquiry whether they would accept the translator as the final arbiter of the witnesses' responses; that he did not know which jurors were Latinos; and that he had no motive to exclude Latinos from the jury, since the complainants and all of his civilian witnesses were Latinos. The trial court rejected the defense claims, and the petitioner was eventually convicted of attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon. On appeal, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, in affirming, expressed the view that the prosecutor had offered race-neutral explanations for the peremptory challenges, which explanations were sufficient to rebut the petitioner’s prima facie cases. The Court of Appeals of New York affirmed. Certiorari was granted.
Did the prosecution exercise peremptory challenges on the basis of ethnicity?
The court affirmed the rejection of petitioner's claim that the prosecution exercised peremptory challenges based upon ethnicity. In applying the three-step process for evaluating claims of this nature, a defendant had to make a prima facie showing that the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges on the basis of race; if the requisite showing was made, the burden shifted to the prosecutor to articulate a race-neutral explanation for striking the jurors in question; and then the trial court would determine whether the defendant carried his burden of proving purposeful discrimination. In this case, prior to petitioner making a prima facie showing of discriminatory strikes, the prosecution offered its reasons for excluding the jurors in question. Therefore, the prima facie requirement was waived. The prosecutor explained that because the jurors in question were hesitant to agree that they could rely on the translation of testimony by a court translator, he exercised the peremptory strikes. The court found no error in accepting this reasoning as a race-neutral basis for the exercise, and thus affirmed the rejection of petitioner's claim.