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The Judicial Process And Batson Case

2726 words - 11 pages

The Judicial Process and Batson Case

Despite the efforts of lawyers and judges to eliminate racial discrimination in the courts, does racial bias play a part in today’s jury selection? Positive steps have been taken in past court cases to ensure fair and unbiased juries. Unfortunately, a popular strategy among lawyers is to incorporate racial bias without directing attention to their actions. They are taught to look for the unseen and to notice the unnoticed. The Supreme Court in its precedent setting decision on the case of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), is the first step to limiting racial discrimination in the court room. The process of selecting jurors begins with prospective jurors being brought into the courtroom, then separating them into smaller groups to be seated in the jury box. The judge and or attorneys ask questions with intent to determine if any juror is biased or cannot deal with the issues fairly. The question process is referred to as voir dire, a French word meaning, “to see to speak”. During voir dire, attorneys have the right to excuse a juror in peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges are based on the potential juror admitting bias, acquaintanceship with one of the parties, personal knowledge of the facts, or the attorney believing he/she might not be impartial. In the case of Batson v. Kentucky, James Batson, a black man, was indicted for second-degree burglary and receipt of stolen goods. During the selection of the jury the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike out all of the four black potential jurors, leaving an all white jury. Batson’s attorney moved to discharge the venire, the list from which jurors may be selected, on the grounds that the prosecutor’s peremptory challenges violated his client’s Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to have a jury derived from a “cross-section of the community”(People v. Wheeler, 583 P.3d 748 [Calif. 1978]). The circuit court ruled in favor of the prosecutor and convicted Batson on both counts. This case went through the courts and finalized in the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Batson. The Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids the prosecutor from challenging potential jurors solely on account of their race or on the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable to consider the state’s case against a black defendant impartially (74 A.B.A.J. 54, April, 1988). Quoting an 1880 ruling that barred the exclusion of blacks from the jury venire itself; Justice Powell’s opinion for the Court stressed the importance of excluding racial prejudice from the jury process. “The harm from discriminatory jury selection extends beyond that inflicted on the defendant and the excluded juror to touch the entire community. Selection procedures that purposefully exclude black persons from juries undermine public confidence in the fairness of our system of justice. Discrimination within the judicial...

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