Batson v. Kentucky

PETITIONER: Batson
RESPONDENT: Kentucky
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Jefferson County

DOCKET NO.: 84-6263
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Kentucky Supreme Court

CITATION: 476 US 79 (1986)
ARGUED: Dec 12, 1985
DECIDED: Apr 30, 1986

ADVOCATES:
J. David Niehaus - Argued the cause for the petitioner
Lawrence G. Wallace - Argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Rickie Leon Pearson - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

Batson, a black man, was on trial charged with second-degree burglary and receipt of stolen goods. During the jury selection, the prosecutor used his peremptory challenges to strike the four black persons on the venire, resulting in a jury composed of all whites. Batson was convicted on both of the charges against him.

Question

Did the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to exclude the four blacks from the jury violate Batson's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to a fair jury trial and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws?

Media for Batson v. Kentucky

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1985 in Batson v. Kentucky

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Batson against Kentucky.

Mr. Niehaus, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

J. David Niehaus:

Thank you, Your Honor.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the issue presented today arose out of a state criminal proceeding in Jefferson County, Kentucky, in which the prosecutor employed four of the six peremptory challenges that were allotted to him under court rule to remove all black persons on the panel of jurors.

These panel members had all survived the challenges for cause under the Kentucky system, which is called the blind strike system, and peremptory challenges are made at all... at the close of all challenges for cause, and they are made by means of striking from identical lists simultaneously names of the jurors that either party wishes to have removed.

But before the jury was sworn, trial counsel for petitioner made a motion to discharge the panel on the ground that the removal of the four blacks by these peremptory challenges denied the right to trial by an impartial jury under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution and also denied equal protection of the law.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Were you trial counsel?

J. David Niehaus:

No, Your Honor.

The petitioner asked for a hearing on his motion, but it was denied basically on the ground that anybody can strike anybody they want to.

Those are the words of the trial judge in the case.

The same issue was raised on appeal, on direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Kentucky, and that court also affirmed by stating that an allegation of lack of a fair cross section on a jury which does not concern systematic exclusion from the jury drum, which is the composition device for the jury list, does not rise to constitutional proportions, and therefore the court refused to adopt any law.

I think as the Court can see, neither of the trial court nor the Supreme Court of Kentucky was willing to consider any regulation of peremptory challenges, and I think both followed the conventional interpretation of Swain versus Alabama which this Court decided in 1965.

Byron R. White:

Well, the court could have, without regard to Swain, could have proceeded under state law to regulate.

J. David Niehaus:

Your Honor, that was not raised in this particular case, although it certainly could.

It was not argued, although it was mentioned, but there is no doubt that they could have proceeded on that basis.

The conventional interpretation of Swain is that there can be no question of peremptory challenges and the way that they are exercised in any one particular case.

This has been the basis for decisions of the many state courts who have refused to consider the newer rules that have been advanced by the Supreme Court of California, the court in Massachusetts, and more recently by two federal appellate courts.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Niehaus, Swain was an equal protection challenge, was it not?

J. David Niehaus:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Your claim here is based solely on the Sixth Amendment?

J. David Niehaus:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is that correct?

J. David Niehaus:

That is what we are arguing, yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

You are not asking for a reconsideration of Swain, and you are making no equal protection claim here.

Is that correct?

J. David Niehaus:

We have not made an equal protection claim.

I think that Swain will have to be reconsidered to a certain extent if only to consider the arguments that are made on behalf of affirmance by the respondent and the solicitor general.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Why do you fall short of a direct attack on Swain on equal protection?

J. David Niehaus:

Swain within the conventional interpretation simply states that no attack can be made on the exercise in one particular case, and as the record in this case shows no more than what happened in this one particular case.

Harry A. Blackmun:

But Swain preceded the time, did it not, when the amendment was made applicable to the states?