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Jury - Should The Peremptory Challenge Be Abolished?

batson challenges race gender

APEREMPTORY CHALLENGE permits a party to remove a prospective juror without giving a reason for the removal. This type of challenge has had a long history in U.S. law and has been viewed as a way to ensure an impartial jury. However, use of the peremptory challenge changed as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S. Ct. 1712, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69 (1986), and its progeny, and the changes have led some lawyers and legal commentators to call for its ABOLITION. They argue that these Court decisions have deprived lawyers of their absolute discretion in using the challenges and have turned peremptory challenges into challenges for cause. Defenders of the peremptory challenge believe that the new race, gender, and religious affiliation requirements initiated by Batson simply ensure that jurors will not be excluded on the basis of stereotypes.

Those who favor retention of the peremptory challenge point to its four purposes: The peremptory challenge allows litigants to secure a fair and impartial jury. It gives the parties some control over the jury selection process. It allows an attorney to search for biases during the selection process without fear of alienating a potential juror. If, for example, a juror appears offended by the nature of the questioning, that juror can be excluded even if the answers she gives do not demonstrate bias. Finally, the peremptory challenge serves as an insurance policy when a challenge for cause is denied by the judge and the challenging party still believes that the juror is biased.

Defenders of the peremptory challenge contend that the limitations imposed by the Supreme Court have not substantially impaired the use of the challenge. As a result of Batson, a peremptory challenge can be questioned by the opposite side if that side believes that it was based solely on race or gender. The reasoning behind this change is that striking jurors on the basis of race or gender perpetuates stereotypes that were prejudicial and that were based on historical discrimination. The only way to correct this record is to allow a party to establish a PRIMA FACIE case of racial or gender discrimination. Defenders believe that to say Batson introduced race into the jury selection process is to ignore the part race has already played in the use of peremptory challenges. The other side has the opportunity to offer a nondiscriminatory reason for the challenge. The reason does not have to rise to the level of a "for-cause" challenge. It merely has to be a reasonable concern that can be articulated. Defenders of the challenge argue that this is an acceptable modification of the challenge.

They also point out that other characteristics of jurors are not bound by the Batson line of cases. A peremptory challenge based on a juror's religion, age, income, occupation, or political affiliation cannot be questioned as long as it is not a pretext for concealing race or gender bias. Therefore, argue supporters, the peremptory challenge is still a valuable tool in trial proceedings.

Those who argue for the abolition of the peremptory challenge come from two camps. One camp believes that the Batson line of cases was a mistake. This group would prefer to return to unrestricted use of the challenge but, knowing that overturning precedent is unlikely, recommends eliminating the challenge. The other camp believes that the racial, gender, and religious affiliation tests crafted by the courts are idealistic creations that are easily subverted in daily courtroom practice. The reality is that allegations of bias using Batson rarely are successful.

The group that believes that the changes following Batson were a mistake argues that the whole point of the peremptory challenge is that it is made totally within the discretion of the lawyer. A trial lawyer may have a gut feeling about a juror, a feeling that is difficult to articulate to a judge and does not rise to a for-cause strike. Prior to Batson a court would allow this type of peremptory challenge. Since Batson the lawyer is required to articulate a reason. The temptation for the lawyer is to invent a "reasonable" explanation rather than risk having the peremptory challenge denied.

These critics argue that the only way for a lawyer to protect a client under this new system is to interrogate prospective jurors concerning intimate, personal matters in order to create defensible grounds for striking them. Lawyers must take more notes during questioning and spend more time evaluating the answers of jurors. The selection of a jury is lengthened if this tactic is chosen, placing more pressure on an overtaxed court system. Therefore, contend these critics, it would be better to abolish peremptory challenges and try other methods of jury selection. One alternative is expanding challenges for cause, allowing lawyers to exclude prospective jurors for legitimate, articulated reasons that do not satisfy the tougher current standards of challenges for cause.

The other group that questions Batson points to the difficulty of achieving the racially neutral selection of a jury. Surveys have shown that motions to deny peremptory challenges because of race or gender bias are rarely made, and that when they are judges accept all types of questionable race-neutral explanations to refute them. Thinking in the legal community over this issue has led state judiciaries to reflect on the best course to take. For example, the Florida Supreme Court-appointed Jury Innovations Committee issued a report in 2002 that recommended the elimination of peremptory challenges.

FURTHER READINGS

Griebat, Jeb C. 2003. "Peremptory Challenge by Blind Questionnaire: The Most Practical Solution for Ending the Problem of Racial and Gender Discrimination in Kansas Courts While Preserving the Necessary Function of the Peremptory Challenge." The Kansas Journal of Law & Public Policy 12 (winter).

Jones, Barbara. 2003. "Peremptory Challenge Should Have Been Granted." Minnesota Lawyer (July 14).

Montz, Vivien Toomey, and Craig Lee Montz. 2000. "The Peremptory Challenge: Should It Still Exist? An Examination of Federal and Florida Law." Univ. of Miami Law Review 54 (April).

CROSS-REFERENCES

Litigation.

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