Powers v. Ohio

LOCATION:Cuyahoga County Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 89-5011
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: Ohio Supreme Court

CITATION: 499 US 400 (1991)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1990
DECIDED: Apr 01, 1991

Alan C. Travis – on behalf of the Respondent
Robert L. Lane – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Larry Joe Powers, a white male, was indicted on the charges of two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted aggravated murder. He pleaded not guilty, and invoked his right to a jury trial. During the jury selection process, Powers objected when the prosecution excluded a black individual from the jury without explanation. The court denied the request for explanation. The prosecution struck nine more possible jurors, of which six were black. Powers objected each time, but the court overruled his objection. The jury convicted Powers on all charges. Powers appealed his conviction and argued that the prosecution’s discriminatory selection of jurors violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Ohio Constitution, and that his own race was irrelevant to the right to object. The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction and the Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed the appeal. The petitioner sought review before the Supreme Court.


Does the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1 sections 10 and 16 of the Ohio Constitution allow a criminal defendant to make objections to race-based exclusions of jurors by the State during the jury selection process if the defendant and the jurors are of different races?

Media for Powers v. Ohio

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 09, 1990 in Powers v. Ohio

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – April 01, 1991 in Powers v. Ohio

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-5011, Powers against Ohio will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

Our decision in Powers versus Ohio is summarized as follows:

The case concerns the prosecution’s use of preemptory challenges in the jury selection process.

In 1986, we ruled that in a criminal case, a prosecutor could not use the preemptory challenge as a way to remove jurors of the same race as the defendant where race was the reason for the challenge.

That case was Batson versus Kentucky.

Today, we must decide whether the rule in Batson applies so that a defendant in a criminal case can object to the race-based exclusion of the juror where the perspective juror and the defendant are not of the same race.

The case comes to us on a certiorari to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio.

The petitioner, one Larry Powers, was convicted in Ohio of murder and other related counts.

At his trial, he sought to object when the prosecution used seven different challenges to remove Black persons from the jury selection panel.

Powers himself is White.

He sought a hearing to determine whether the challenges were racially motivated.

The Trial Court and the Ohio reviewing courts held that he could not raise a Batson type objection.

We now reverse.

The individual juror has a right not to be excluded by a prosecution challenge that is based on the juror’s race.

The opportunity for ordinary citizens to participate in the administration of justice has long been recognized as one of the principal justifications for the jury system.

Juries preserve the democratic element of the law by guarding the rights of the parties and insuring continued acceptance of the laws by all the people.

But the exception of voting, for most citizens, the honor and privilege of jury duty is their most significant opportunity to participate in the democratic process.

While an individual juror does not have a right to sit on any particular petit jury, the Equal Protection Clause prohibits a prosecutor from using the state’s preemptory challenges to exclude otherwise qualified and unbiased persons from the jury solely by reason of their race.

We do not believe that race-based preemptory challenges survive equal protection scrutiny because members of all races are subject to like treatment which is to say that White jurors are subject to the same risk of discriminatory exclusion as our jurors of other races.

It is actually emetic that racial classifications do not become legitimate on the assumption that all person suffer them in equal degree.

We further hold that the defendant in a criminal case has requisite standing to challenge the prosecution’s racially discriminatory exclusion of jurors.

The discrimination causes the defendant a cognizable injury.

The injury arises not because the individual jurors dismissed by the prosecution may had been predisposed to favor the defendant.

If that were true, the jurors might have been excluded for cause.

Rather, it is because of the intrusion of racial discrimination into the jury selection process casts doubt on the integrity of the entire trial.

The prosecutor’s wrongful exclusion of a juror by a race-based preemptory challenge is a constitutional violation committed in open court at the outset of the proceedings.

Active discrimination by a prosecutor condones violation of the United States Constitution within the very institution entrusted with its enforcement and so invites cynicism respecting the jury’s neutrality in its obligation to adhere to the law.

The purpose of the jury system is to impress upon the criminal defendant and the community as a whole that a verdict of conviction or acquittal is given in accordance with the law by persons who are fair.

The verdict will not be accepted or understood in these terms if the jury is chosen by unlawful means at the outset.

We, thus, find that a criminal defendant may challenge the exclusion of jurors on account of race.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

To bar a petitioner’s claim because of his race differs from that of the excluded jurors would be to condone the arbitrary exclusion of citizens from the duty, honor, and privilege of jury service.

The case is remanded to the Ohio courts for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion and is joined by the Chief Justice.