Jury Selection in Maryland and the Improper Use of Peremptory Challenges Based on Race or Gender

The jury selection process in Maryland criminal trials is influenced by many competing factors. Each opposing side seeks a jury panel that, in their opinion, will be optimally receptive to their arguments and evidence. Prosecutors have many tools and know numerous techniques to help them fashion the jury they want. If you’re someone facing trial, you need a skilled Maryland criminal defense lawyer on your side who can level the playing field and help you get the fair jury you need.

In some cases, two factors that may conflict are the right to utilize peremptory challenges (which allow the removal of potential jurors even in the absence of a reason for that removal) and the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. A theft case recently before the Appellate Court of Maryland highlights what the law requires in these circumstances.

Courts follow the seminal case in this area, a 1986 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Batson v. Kentucky. The high court said that prosecutors could not use their peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors based on discriminatory considerations like race. (In that case, a Kentucky prosecutor used peremptory challenges to remove African-American potential jurors, leaving an all-white jury to decide the fate of an African-American defendant on trial for burglary.)

In 1993, Maryland’s highest court expanded that concept to include juror strikes based on gender discrimination in addition to race discrimination. The recent criminal case, which originated in Prince George’s County, presented a similar, though slightly different question than those cases.

R.H. was on trial for stealing three cars. The State’s Attorney used two peremptory challenges to remove a pair of male potential jurors. Unlike the earlier cases, the prosecution’s motivation wasn’t entirely based on impermissible factors. The prosecutors told the judge that one of the men was inattentive and possibly had fallen asleep during questioning.

The jury eventually convicted R.H.

The Appellate Court threw out that conviction and ordered a new trial. The appeals court decided that, if an accused person presents any viable evidence that any of the state’s peremptory challenges were fueled, in whole or in part, by discriminatory motivations, the strike is a violation of the Batson rule and, by extension, a violation of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

Any Degree of Impermissible Consideration is Too Much

In making this decision, the court rejected other lower standards, such as only reversing convictions if discrimination was the driving or “but-for” cause of the questionable strike. Specifically, the ruling declared that, whenever a party admits that it struck a juror because of race, sex/gender, or other impermissible discriminatory basis, the strike is per se invalid even if discriminatory considerations weren’t the sole reason for the challenge.

If you are on trial and believe the prosecution has violated Batson with its use of peremptory strikes, you first must make what’s called a “Batson challenge.” After you do that, the court will utilize a three-step analysis. First, it looks to see if you have produced some credible evidence that the state challenged a juror on an impermissible basis, such as race or gender discrimination. Next, the law shifts the burden to the state to present a reason for the strike “that is neutral as to race, gender, and ethnicity.” Finally, the judge must determine whether the neutral reason asserted was persuasive or if the defense has proven “purposeful discrimination.”

The court in R.H.’s case declared that, when a prosecutor offers multiple reasons for a strike, some of which are permissible and some of which are not, that explanation in its totality fails to be “neutral,” and the challenge fails the second step of the Batson analysis.

As all this demonstrates, there are a lot of procedural nuances and intricacies that go into putting on a defense that protects your rights to the fullest extent of the law. If you’re facing a criminal trial, the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC can help, serving as the diligent, detail-oriented, and zealous advocate your case deserves. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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