You Need Race-Neutral Reasons To Strike Jurors From The Jury
We are all entitled to a jury of our peers. But in reality, we are allowed a jury that we think is most inclined to be neutral, and listen to the facts impartially. To do that, parties get the ability to strike jurors from the jury pool, before the trial starts. In some cases, a lawyer will have a reason to strike a juror (for cause), but in other cases, a lawyer can use what is known as a peremptory challenge to get rid of a juror.
What’s a Peremptory Challenge?
A peremptory challenge is the ability of a lawyer to strike a juror from the jury pool “just because.” No real reason is needed, and the lawyer doesn’t have to give a reason. The lawyer can strike the juror because the juror may be partial, or just because the lawyer has a bad feeling about that particular juror.
But there’s one time when a lawyer can’t just strike a juror: when the lawyer is striking the juror because of race or nationality. A lawyer cannot get rid of all the jurors of a given race, because the lawyer may feel that those jurors will be unfavorable to the lawyer’s case or client.
When striking a juror that is of a protected class—a minority—the lawyer can expect the other side or the court to challenge the striking. The lawyer will then have to show a non-race-based reason why the juror was stricken. The court will then rule whether that reason is a valid reason or not.
Sadly, in many cases, lawyers use other excuses as “pretext,” to justify what really is race-based striking of jurors.
Recent Case Denies Challenges
Such was the situation in a recent case, involving medical malpractice. In that case, the lawyer tried to strike one minority juror because the juror was very into policies and procedures, which would be an issue in the case. The court allowed that strike, finding it was not pretext (an excuse) for race.
But the lawyer then wanted to strike two additional minority jurors. One, the lawyer said, worked at a hospital, and the other was an LPN. Working in the medical fields, the lawyer argued, would make it difficult for them to act neutrally as jurors.
But the court had doubts about three jurors being stricken, with all three being minorities. The court denied the motion and allowed the jurors to serve. When the hospital lost the case, it appealed the judge’s denial.
Being Genuine Matters
The appellate court clarified that a lawyer’s motive for striking a juror must be genuine. Given all the striking of minorities, and the fact that the trial judge’s discretion shouldn’t be second guessed on appeal, the appellate court allowed the verdict to stand.
The case illustrates that although there is leeway in selecting jurors, courts won’t give much latitude to parties seeking to mold their juries based on race.
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