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Under Batson jurisprudence, once the opponent of a peremptory challenge has made out a prima facie case of racial discrimination, the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the strike to come forward with a race-neutral explanation. If a race-neutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must then decide whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful racial discrimination. The second step of this process does not demand an explanation that is persuasive, or even plausible. At this step of the inquiry, the issue is the facial validity of the prosecutor's explanation. Unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the prosecutor's explanation, the reason offered will be deemed race neutral.
Relying on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712, respondent objected to a prosecutor's use of a peremptory challenge to strike, inter alios, a black male juror from the jury at his robbery trial. The Missouri trial court overruled the objection after the prosecutor explained that he struck the juror because of the juror's long, unkempt hair, his moustache, and his beard. The jury was empaneled, and respondent was convicted. On direct appeal, the State Court of Appeals affirmed the Batson ruling, concluding that the prosecution had not engaged in purposeful discrimination. In denying respondent's subsequent petition for habeas corpus, the Federal District Court concluded that the state courts' purposeful discrimination determination was a factual finding entitled to a presumption of correctness and that the finding had support in the record. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prosecution's explanation for striking the juror was pretextual and that the trial court had clearly erred in finding no intentional discrimination.
Did the Court of Appeals err by not concluding or even attempting to conclude that the state court's finding of no racial motive was not fairly supported by the record?
The court held that under the Batson test for determining whether a strike constitutes racial discrimination, (1) the prosecutor's explanation satisfied the burden of articulating a nondiscriminatory reason for striking the first juror, as the wearing of beards and long unkempt hair were not characteristics that were particular to any race; (2) thus, the inquiry properly proceeded to the next step, at which there was a state-court finding of a nondiscriminatory motive; (3) under 28 USCS 2254(d)(8), in habeas corpus proceedings in federal courts, the factual findings of state courts were presumed to be correct and could be set aside, absent procedural error, only if such findings were not fairly supported by the record; and (4) the Court of Appeals (a) had not concluded that the state court finding of no racial motive was not fairly supported by the record, and (b) had given no proper basis for overturning such finding.