Hernandez v. New York

LOCATION: District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville Division

DOCKET NO.: 89-7645
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: New York Court of Appeals

CITATION: 500 US 352 (1991)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1991
DECIDED: May 28, 1991

Jay M. Cohen - on behalf of the Respondent
Kenneth Kimerling - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Hernandez v. New York

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1991 in Hernandez v. New York

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 28, 1991 in Hernandez v. New York

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-7645, Hernandez against New York will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

This case comes to us on direct review from the New York Court of Appeals.

The petitioner was convicted on two counts of attempted murder and two counts of criminal possession of a weapon.

During jury selection, the prosecutor used four preemptory challenges to exclude Latinos from serving on the jury.

Petitioner who himself is Latino objected that the prosecutor was exercising preemptory challenges on the basis of race in violation of the Equal Protection Clause as it interpreted by our decision in Batson verus Kentucky.

The petitioner no longer presses his objection with respect to two of the Latino jury persons.

As to the other two jurors in question, the prosecutor explained that certain testimony in the case would be given in Spanish and translated by a court interpreter.

These two jurors were bilingual and the prosecutor and judge had questioned them about their ability to accept the official translation of the Spanish language testimony rather than relying on their own understanding of it.

The prosecutor stated that he challenged these jurors because their demeanor and hesitation in answering his questions caused him to doubt their ability to defer to the official interpreter.

New York courts found no violation of our decision in Batson.

Today, we affirm but no opinion commands the majority of the Court.

In an opinion for plurality of the Court, in which I am joined by the Chief Justice, Justice White, and Justice Souter, we find that the prosecutor offered a race-neutral explanation for the preemptory challenges.

In this portion of the Batson analysis, we review the facial validity of the prosecutor's given reason for the challenges.

Here, the prosecutor offered a reason for challenging these jurors other than their race, specifically his perception that they would have difficulty deferring to the translator.

We explained that under established equal protection principles, the fact that the prosecutor's reasoning might result in the disproportionate exclusion of Latinos from jury service does not mean that the prosecutor's basis for the challenge violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Equal protection analysis turns on the intended consequences of government classifications.

Unless a government act or adapts a criterion with the intent of causing a particular impact, that impact does not cause the criterion to violate the principle of race neutrality.

Nothing in this prosecutor's explanation shows that he chose to exclude jurors who hesitated in answering questions about following the interpreter because he wanted to prevent bilingual Latinos from serving on the jury.

If we deemed the prosecutor's reasons for striking these jurors a racial classification on its face, it would follow that the trial judge could not excuse for cause a juror whose hesitation convinced the judge of the juror's inability to follow the official translation of foreign language testimony.

If the explanation is not race-neutral for the prosecutor, it is no more so for the trial judge.

While the reason offered by the prosecutor for a preemptory strike need not rise to the level of the challenge for cause.

The fact that it corresponds to a valid for cause challenge will demonstrate its race-neutral character.

Since the reason given by the prosecutor for its peremptory challenge was race-neutral, the issue then becomes, whether the State Courts could believe the prosecutor.

The plurality concludes that the State Court's decision to believe the prosecutor's explanation for his preemptory challenges should be reversed only if clearly erroneous.

This conclusion represents a finding of fact, and Batson explain that such findings should be accorded great deference.

Applying this differential standard of review, the plurality finds no clear error in the State Court's determination that the prosecutor had given the true reason for his challenge of these jurors.

The plurality opinion emphasizes that our decision today does not imply that exclusion of bilinguals from jury service is wise or even that it is constitutional in all cases.

We would face a quite different case if the prosecutor had justified his peremptory challenges on the ground that he simply did not want Spanish-speaking jurors.

It may be for certain ethnic groups and in some communities that proficiency in a particular language, like skin color, should be treated as a surrogate for race under an equal protection analysis.

Further, a policy striking all those who speak a given language without regard that the particular circumstance of the trial where the responses of the jurors might be found by the trial judge to be a pretext for racial discrimination.