Peremptory Challenge Cases In California

In People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, 148 Cal. Rptr. 890, the California Supreme Court held that peremptory challenges may not be used to remove prospective jurors solely on the basis of presumed group bias. The court defined group bias as a presumption that certain jurors are biased merely because they are members of an identifiable group distinguished on racial, religious, ethnic, or similar grounds. ( People v. Wheeler, supra, 22 Cal.3d at p. 276, People v. Johnson (1989) 47 Cal.3d 1194, 1215, 255 Cal. Rptr. 569, 767 P.2d 1047.) Persons of Hispanic descent are in such an identifiable group for purposes of Wheeler analysis. ( People v. Garceau (1993) 6 Cal.4th 140, 172, 862 P.2d 664.) Under Wheeler, if a defendant believes the prosecution is improperly using peremptory challenges for a discriminatory purpose, he or she must raise a timely challenge and make a prima facie case of such discrimination. If the defendant successfully makes a prima facie showing of purposeful discrimination, the burden shifts to the prosecution to show its absence. ( People v. Alvarez (1996) 12 Cal. 4th 155, 193.) In this regard, the prosecutor must "come forward with an explanation that demonstrates a neutral explanation related to the particular case tried." ( People v. Johnson, supra, 47 Cal.3d at p. 1216.) A reviewing court will rely on the good judgment of the trial courts to distinguish bona fide reasons for such peremptories from sham excuses belatedly contrived to avoid admitting acts of group discrimination. However, the trial court must make a sincere and reasoned attempt to evaluate the prosecutor's explanation in light of the circumstances of the case then known, his or her knowledge of trial techniques, and his or her observations of the manner in which the prosecutor has examined members of the venire and has exercised challenges for cause or peremptorily. (Ibid.) Peremptory challenges are available against individual potential jurors whom counsel suspects even for trivial reasons. To rebut a Wheeler challenge that a peremptory challenge was made for reasons of race or group bias, counsel need only give a non-discriminatory reason which, under all the circumstances including logical relevance to the case, appears genuine. ( People v. Montiel (1993) 5 Cal.4th 877, 855 P.2d 1277, mod. 6 Cal. 4th at p. 910, fn. 9.) However, a constitutional violation may arise if even one of several members of a cognizable group was excluded for improper reasons of group bias. ( Id. at p. 909.)