Questions of law are heard by the Supreme Court to determine if a person’s rights have been violated. Many questions of law can arise in a court case starting at jury voir dire. Jury voir dire is the selection process to pick which jurors from a pool of persons who have been called for jury duty will be chosen to sit on any particular jury. Both the defense and the prosecution evaluate the potential jurors and try to choose the people that they believe will be the most favorable to their side of the argument. Either side may use a peremptory challenge to eliminate a juror. However, in the case of Batson v. Kentucky, the Supreme Court held that the “Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids the use of peremptory challenges solely for discriminatory purposes, such as to purposely exclude persons of a particular race from serving on a jury.” Under Batson, there is a three-prong test to determine if the person making the motion has made a prima facie case showing that the other party has used its peremptory challenges for discriminatory purposes.
In one New York case, a defendant was observed by an undercover police officer selling drugs. The undercover officer attempted to purchase drugs from him but was denied. He arrested the subject and in the search incident to arrest the officer found that he was in possession of crack cocaine. The defendant was tried by a jury and convicted. He appealed his conviction because the court “improperly denied him his application pursuant to Batson.”
The defendant claimed that three potential jurors who would have been beneficial to his case were denied because they were black. The Supreme Court reviewed the case and determined that there were race-neutral reasons for the prosecution to not want those particular jurors on the jury of his case.
The first juror was rejected because he stated that he thought that police officers would lie to “cover their butts.” The defense contended that his response was logical in that most people whether they are police officers or not would lie to cover their butts. The prosecution contended that the tone of his response indicated a deep seated disregard for law enforcement as a whole which could prejudice the jury against the prosecution. The defense stated that there had been a white juror who had also demonstrated that he had not liked the manner in which the police had handled a case that he had called them for. They had stated the white juror was not rejected. The Supreme Court on Review of the transcripts noted that the white juror that they referred to had stated only that on one out of three situations where he had made police reports, he was a little disappointed. This is in opposition to what the rejected juror stated in that his tone was short and indicated a deep seated dislike. The Court decided that Batson did not apply to this first juror.
The second juror who was rejected was rejected based on a similar situation in that the prosecution found that the black juror was adamant about his dislike of the interactions that he had experienced with police while the white juror had stated that he had not been happy, but that he felt that he could be fair and impartial. Further, this comparison was not applicable since the white juror mentioned in this situation was part of a group of jurors who were questioned later in the day, after the decision had been made in reference to the second juror.
Finally, the court ruled that the rejection of the last one also had nothing to do with race, but rather with the fact that she had two nephews who were drug addicts and one was serving time in prison after allegedly having been beaten by police officers.
The court upholds the conviction and rules that Batson did not apply.
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