At the trial of James Kirkland Batson for burglary and receipt of stolen goods, the prosecutor used peremptory challenges to remove all four black jurors from the jury pool. The jury convicted Batson on both counts.
Batson challenged the removal of these jurors as violating his Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Court ruled that purposeful racial discrimination during the process of voir dire violates a defendant's right to equal protection because it denies them the protection that a trial by jury is intended to secure.
Racially motivated peremptory challenges remain an issue for jury selection. For example, Timothy Foster was sentenced to death in 1987. On appeal to the Supreme Court in 2016, the Court ruled 7-1 that the “prosecutors were motivated in substantial part by race” when using their peremptory challenges to remove two Black jurors, and overturned Foster’s death sentence. The case is currently before the Georgia Supreme Court as the State continues to pursue the death penalty.Back to top
The guarantee of equal protection
in our criminal justice system.
The reality is our justice system
has survived on purposeful discrimination
and the conviction
of black defendants
“The core guarantee of equal protection, ensuring citizens that their State will not discriminate on account of race, would be meaningless were we to approve the exclusion of jurors on the basis of such assumptions, which arise solely from the jurors' race.”