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It is permissible to insulate from inquiry the removal of Negroes from a particular jury on the assumption that the prosecutor is acting on acceptable considerations related to the case he is trying, the particular defendant involved and the particular crime charged. But when the prosecutor in a county, in case after case, whatever the circumstances, whatever the crime and whoever the defendant or the victim may be, is responsible for the removal of Negroes who have been selected as qualified jurors by the jury commissioners and who have survived challenges for cause, with the result that no Negroes ever serve on petit juries, the Fourteenth Amendment claim takes on added significance. In these circumstances, giving even the widest leeway to the operation of irrational but trial-related suspicions and antagonisms, it would appear that the purposes of the peremptory challenge are being perverted. The presumption protecting the prosecutor may well be overcome. Such proof might support a reasonable inference that Negroes are excluded from juries for reasons wholly unrelated to the outcome of the particular case on trial and that the peremptory system is being used to deny the Negro the same right and opportunity to participate in the administration of justice enjoyed by the white population. These ends the peremptory challenge is not designed to facilitate or justify.
The petitioner, Robert Swain, a Negro, was indicted and convicted of rape in the Circuit Court of Talladega County, Alabama, and sentenced to death. Of those in the county eligible for jury selection for grand and petit juries 26% are Negroes, while the jury panels since 1953 have averaged 10% to 15% Negroes. In this case there were four or five Negroes on the grand jury panel and two served on the grand jury. Although petit jury venires in criminal cases include an average of six to seven Negroes, no Negro has served on a petit jury in the county since about 1950. Here of the eight Negroes on the venire, two were exempt and six were peremptorily struck by the prosecutor. Swain’s motions to quash the indictment, to strike the trial jury venire, and to void the trial jury, all based on discrimination in the selection of jurors, were denied and his conviction was affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court.
Did Swain carry his burden of proof in showing a purposeful discrimination based on race in Alabama's process of selecting jurors?
The Court affirmed a judgment that denied Swain’s motions to quash the indictment, to strike the trial jury venire, and to declare void the petit jury chosen in the case, all based on alleged invidious discrimination in the selection of jurors. The Court found that Swain failed to carry his burden of proof in showing a purposeful discrimination based on race in Alabama's process of selecting jurors. The Court held that the striking of Negroes in this particular case was not a denial of equal protection of the laws. In light of the purpose of the peremptory system and the function it served in a pluralistic society in connection with the institution of jury trial, it could not hold that the Constitution required an examination of the prosecutor's reasons for the exercise of his challenges in this case. The Court found that even if a state's systematic striking of Negroes in the selection of petit juries raised a prima facie case under U.S. Const. amend. XIV, it was apparent that the record in this case was not sufficient to demonstrate that the rule had been violated by the peremptory system as it operated in Talladega County.