Monday, December 6, 2010

Batson Challenge: Must the State have Questioned the Stricken Juror?

In a criminal trial, each side is allowed to strike a certain amount of prospective jurors (venire members) from the jury using peremptory strikes.  They can strike these venire members for any reason at all, so long as it is not discriminatory in nature.  If one side believes that the other has used a peremptory strike in a discriminatory manner (e.g. to strike a certain race from the jury), they can make what is called a Batson challenge.

Reviewing a trial court's denial of a Batson challenge in Grant v. State, the 10th District Court of Appeals (Waco) found that the State's explanation for striking a certain venire member was a pretext for racial discrimination because "there was no meaningful examination [of the member] regarding the reason the State used to strike him."  The Court of Criminal Appeals didn't agree with the legal reasoning of the Waco jurists.  Writing for a unanimous court, Judge Womack explained:
We hold that a lack of meaningful questioning might be sufficient to support a Batson challenge under the appropriate circumstances, but the Court of Appeals erred in applying the standard of review in this case.
The Court further explained that a reviewing court must given great deference to a party's facially race-neutral  explanation for using a peremptory strike, reversing only if the court's ruling was clearly erroneous.  (Is it wrong that I'm am bored while writing this post?  I can only imagine how bored you must me if you are reading it, so I'll cut to the chase).

In Whitsey v. State, 796 S.W.2d 707 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990), the CCA created a non-exclusive list of five factors to determine whether a prosecutor used a peremptory challenge based on race.  One of the factors was the lack of meaningful questioning of the prospective juror, but the CCA stated that this factor was not dispositive.  Accordingly, because the Court of Appeals required the state to individually question the prospective juror, and because the Court of Appeals did not give great deference to the state's facially race-neutral reason for striking the juror, the CCA reversed.

Wheww!  That was terrible.  I really need to find some better cases to write about.  I have a backlog of Courts of Appeal opinions.  Maybe I should read through them and find something sexy.