What Has Previous Case Law Determined Regarding Peremptory Challenges ?

In People v. Wheeler (1978) 22 Cal.3d 258, the Supreme Court held that the use of peremptory challenges by a prosecutor to strike prospective jurors on the basis of group membership or bias violates the right of a criminal defendant to trial by a jury drawn from a representative cross-section of the community under article I, section 16 of the California Constitution.

In Batson v. Kentucky (1986) 476 U.S. 79 at pages 84-89, the United States Supreme Court held that such a practice violates the defendant's right to equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. "The Constitution prohibits all forms of purposeful racial discrimination in selection of jurors." (Id. at p. 88, fn. omitted.)

The courts outlined a three-step process for guiding a trial court's review of challenges to the exercise of peremptory strikes.

"First, the defendant must make out a prima facie case 'by showing that the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose.' Batson v. Kentucky, supra, 476 U.S. at pp. 93-94 . . . . Second, once the defendant has made out a prima facie case, the 'burden shifts to the State to explain adequately the racial exclusion' by offering permissible race-neutral justifications for the strikes. (Id. at p. 94.)

Third, 'if a race-neutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must then decide . . . whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful racial discrimination.' Purkett v. Elem (1995) 514 U.S. 765, 767, " (Johnson v. California (2005) 162 L. Ed. 2d 129, 545 U.S. 125 S. Ct. 2410, 2416.)

In Johnson v. California, supra, the United States Supreme Court held that California courts had imposed too burdensome a standard for getting past the first step:

"We conclude that California's 'more likely than not' standard is an inappropriate yardstick by which to measure the sufficiency of a prima facie case." (Id. at p. 2416.)

"We did not intend the first step to be so onerous that a defendant would have to persuade the judge--on the basis of all the facts, some of which are impossible for the defendant to know with certainty--that the challenge was more likely than not the product of purposeful discrimination. Instead, a defendant satisfies the requirements of Batson's first step by producing evidence sufficient to permit the trial judge to draw an inference that discrimination has occurred." (Id. at p. 2417.)

As explained in People v. Fuentes (1991) 54 Cal.3d 707, 715:

"The procedure for challenging a party's use of peremptory challenges requires the moving party to make a timely objection and to establish a prima facie case to the court's satisfaction." Generally, when the trial court inquires into the reasons for the prosecutor's challenges, as the court did here, there is a presumption that it implicitly found a prima facie case. (Id. at p. 716.)

There is an exception where the trial court expressly rules that it did not find a prima facie case, and that it is only asking the prosecutor for his justifications for purposes of completing the record. (Id. at pp. 716-717.)

According to Miller-El v. Dretke (2005) 162 L. Ed. 2d 196, 545 U.S. 125 S. Ct. 2317, courts should engage in an analysis that compares the challenged jurors with those who are allowed to remain. "If a prosecutor's proffered reason for striking a black panelist applies just as well to an otherwise-similar nonblack who is permitted to serve, that is evidence tending to prove purposeful discrimination to be considered at Batson's third step." (Id. at p. 2325.)

In People v. Gray (2005) 37 Cal.4th 168, 188-189, the California Supreme Court acknowledged that Miller-El requires an appellate court, when reviewing a prosecutor's proffered reasons for dismissing a juror or set of jurors, to "compare those reasons with the prosecutor's actions with respect to other jurors to determine whether the reasons given were pretextual."

At the same time, appellate courts are urged to "rely on and defer to our trial courts to distinguish bona fide reasons from the shams that hide improper motives " because "a party may decide to excuse a prospective juror for a variety of reasons, finding no single characteristic dispositive." (Id. at p. 189.)