Neither the state nor the defendant may make peremptory challenges that are racially motivated. Purported racial discrimination in jury selection violates defendants’ and jurors’ right to equal protection of the laws. Batson v. Kentucky,476 U.S. 79 (1986); Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992).
If the district court erroneously denies a defendant’s peremptory challenge, defendant is automatically entitled to a new trial! Although federal law does not require automatic reversal, the Minnesota Supreme Court has adopted a more restrictive rule mandating “automatic reversal.” State v. Campbell, 772 N.W.2d 858 (Minn. App. 2009).
In Batson the Supreme Court established a three-step process to analyze whether a peremptory challenge was racially motivated: See also Minn. R.Crim. P. 26.02, Subd. 7.
1. The objecting party must establish a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination showing that a member of a racial group has been peremptorily excluded from the jury and that the case’s circumstances indicate that race prompted the exclusion.
2. If the party objecting to the strike establishes a prima facie case, then the proponent of the strike must provide a race-neutral explanation. The explanation given need not be “persuasive or even plausible” and absent an inherent discriminatory intent it will be considered race-neutral.
3. The court must determine whether the opponent of the strike has proven purposeful discrimination. This requires the objecting party to show both that the race-neutral reason was pretextual and that the real reason for the strike was the prospective juror’s race.
Sometimes the best evidence of the intent of the attorney exercising a strike is that attorney’s demeanor. If the attorney’s demeanor leads the court to disbelieve the race-neutral reasons put forward by the striking party, this together with the facts establishing the prima facie case may convince the court that intentional discrimination has occurred.
Hon. Alan Pendleton
10th Judicial District