The Importance of ‘Batson Challenges’ in Jury Selection for Your Maryland Criminal Trial

Chances are, there are certain U.S. Supreme Court cases with which you’re familiar, even if you don’t realize that you are. If you’ve ever viewed TV police dramas, you’ve probably heard a character give a criminal suspect various instructions like, “You have the right to remain silent…” or “You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed…” These are concepts that were at the center of two rulings from that court in the 1960s. On the other hand, you may not be familiar with the phrase “voir dire” or the important of a 1986 ruling named Batson v. Kentucky, but an experienced Maryland criminal defense attorney would be. This court opinion, and its impact on the jury selection process in criminal trials, continues to play an important role today.

James Batson was an African-American man standing trial for burglary in Louisville, Ky. in 1982. The rules of jury selection give each side the option to strike several potential jurors preemptively, which means for any reason at all. The prosecutor used four of his preemptive strikes to eliminate all four of the potential jurors who were African-American. The all-white jury convicted Batson. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that conviction, ruling that allowing such a practice violated the Equal Protection Clause.

In more recent times, a man named Mark stood trial in Baltimore for several crimes related to a late-night shooting in June 2012. Mark eventually stood trial for first-degree assault and weapons charges. During the jury selection process, the prosecutor used three of their preemptory challenges to exclude African-American women under the age of 25.

After the third young African-American woman was struck, the defense launched its Batson challenge. A Batson challenge is when a defendant protests the validity of a preemptory challenge on the basis that the prosecution is using an impermissible ground as its basis for the strikes. These impermissible bases can include race, sex, or ethnicity.

The defense’s argument was that the prosecution was excluding African-American women, especially young ones. The prosecutor acknowledged that age was an issue (which is allowable) but said that she targeted the people she did based upon their youth and their lower levels of educational attainment. The prosecutor argued to the judge that older, more highly educated people tended to be more receptive to the state’s arguments, so she favored juries with those types of jurors. The judge denied the Batson challenge, and, eventually, the state secured a conviction.

Mark appealed, and he succeeded. The Court of Special Appeals concluded that, ultimately, there simply wasn’t enough on the record it had before it to determine clearly that the strikes were compliant with the law and weren’t improperly race-based. Whenever that happens, the defendant is entitled to a new trial, which is what the court ordered in Mark’s case.

Mark’s original conviction and, later, his successful appeal highlight just how important each and every part of the criminal trial process is to you as a defendant. Sometimes, a case can be won or lost before either side makes an opening statement, based upon the jurors selected to decide the outcome. When it comes to your criminal case, it is important to have an attorney who knows how to give you a strong chance of success. Skilled Maryland assault defense attorney Anthony A. Fatemi has been defending the accused in Maryland for many years, providing a strong defense at every step in the process. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

More blog posts:

How an Accused Man Turned a Baltimore Judge’s Error into a Reversal of His First-Degree Murder Conviction, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Jan. 12, 2018

Unasked Voir Dire Question Allows a Baltimore Man to Obtain a Reversal and a New Trial, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, Nov. 8, 2017

Maryland Court Orders a New Trial in Criminal Case Due to Violation of Batson Ruling, Maryland Criminal Lawyer Blog, March 8, 2016


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