Johnson v. California

PETITIONER:Jay Shawn Johnson
LOCATION:Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

DOCKET NO.: 03-6539
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 541 US 428 (2004)
GRANTED: Dec 01, 2003
ARGUED: Mar 30, 2004
DECIDED: May 03, 2004

Stephen B. Bedrick – argued the cause for Petitioner
Seth K. Schalit – argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

Jay Shawn Johnson, on trial in California for murder, objected to the district attorney’s use of peremptory challenges to eliminate all three black prospective jurors. Johnson argued the eliminations were based on race. The judge denied Johnson’s motions and held that Johnson had failed to show a “strong likelihood” that the dismissals were race-based. The judge relied on People v. Wheeler, the 1978 case in which the California Supreme Court ruled that to establish a prima facie case of racial bias in peremptory challenges, the objector had to show “strong likelihood” that the challenges were race- based. The jury found Johnson guilty of second-degree murder.

Johnson appealed and argued that the “strong likelihood” standard in Wheeler was at odds with the ‘reasonable inference” standard the U.S. Supreme Court set in Batson v. Kentucky (1986). The appeals court agreed and reversed Johnson’s conviction. The California Supreme Court reversed and ruled that the two standards were the same.


In order to establish a prima facie case under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), must the objector show that it is more likely than not that the other party’s peremptory challenges were based on impermissible group bias?

Media for Johnson v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – March 30, 2004 in Johnson v. California

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 03, 2004 in Johnson v. California

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 03-6539 Johnson against California.

We granted certiorari in this case to review a decision of the Supreme Court of California interpreting Batson against Kentucky, a challenge as to jurors.

The case was briefed and argued but we now conclude that we are without jurisdiction in the matter because the opinion of the California Supreme Court was not final.

We conclude this opinion in these words, “It behooves counsel for both petitioner and respondent to assure themselves that the decision for which review was sought is indeed a final judgment under Section 1257.

Such attention is mandated by our rules and will avoid the expenditure of resources of both counsel and of this Court on an abortive proceeding such as the present one.”

We dismiss the case for want of jurisdiction.

The Per Curiam opinion is unanimous.