Guidelines for Resolving An Allegation of Discrimination In the Use of Peremptory Challenge on Racial Grounds

In Melbourne v. State, 679 So. 2d 759, 764 (Fla. 1996) the Supreme Court of Floridaset forth the following guidelines for resolving an allegation of discrimination in the use of peremptory challenges: A party objecting to the other side's use of a peremptory challenge on racial grounds must: (a) make a timely objection on that basis; (b) show that the venireperson is a member of a distinct racial group; (c) request that the court ask the striking party its reason for the strike. If these initial requirements are met (step 1), the court must ask the proponent of the strike to explain the reason for the strike. At this point, the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the strike to come forward with a race-neutral explanation (step 2). If the explanation is facially race-neutral and the court believes that, given all the circumstances surrounding the strike, the explanation is not a pretext, the strike will be sustained (step 3). "In determining whether or not a proffered race-neutral reason for a peremptory strike is a pretext, the court should focus on the genuineness of the race-neutral explanation as opposed to its reasonableness." Murray v. State, 3 So. 3d 1108, 1120 (Fla. 2009), cert. denied, 130 S. Ct. 396, 175 L. Ed. 2d 273 (2009). "In making a genuineness determination, the court may consider all relevant circumstances surrounding the strike." Id. "Relevant circumstances may include--but are not limited to--the following: the racial make-up of the venire; prior strikes exercised against the same racial group; a strike based on a reason equally applicable to an unchallenged juror; or singling the juror out for special treatment." Melbourne, 679 So. 2d at 764 n.8. "The most important consideration is that the trial judge actually 'believes that given all the circumstances surrounding the strike, the explanation is not a pretext.'" Murray, 3 So. 3d at 1120 (quoting Rodriguez v. State, 753 So. 2d 29, 40 (Fla. 2000)). "Reviewing courts should keep in mind two principles when enforcing the above guidelines. First, peremptories are presumed to be exercised in a nondiscriminatory manner. Second, the trial court's decision turns primarily on an assessment of credibility and will be affirmed on appeal unless clearly erroneous." Melbourne, 679 So. 2d at 764-65.