June 13, 2016
I usually address my posts to attorneys with suggestions concerning jury issues. But today, I want to address trial judges (and attorneys) in light of the recent decision in Foster v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 290 (2016), concerning the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges.
Foster v. Chatman: Poster Child for Discriminatory Purpose
First, some basic facts. Timothy Foster, a black man, was convicted of capital murder in Georgia in 1987, months after the landmark Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), decision banning discriminatory use of peremptory challenges based on race. While five blacks were qualified during voir dire, none made it on the jury. One black potential juror, Shirley Powell, was removed for cause the day peremptories were to be exercised (she came in to court and notified the court that she had a close friend who was related to Foster). The prosecutor used four of its challenges to remove the remaining black jurors. The defense raised a Batson challenge setting in motion the three-step Batson procedure: (a) the defense presents a prima facie case that a peremptory challenge had been exercised based on race; (b) the prosecution must provide “race neutral” explanations for its disputed exercise of peremptory challenges; and (c) the judge decides whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination. It was this last step that was at issue in this case.Read More