Peremptory Challenge on Racial Grounds in Florida

In Melbourne v. State, 679 So. 2d 759 (Fla. 1996), the Court refined the appropriate procedure to be followed when a party objects to the exercise of a peremptory challenge on racial grounds: 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, and 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 racially 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). The court's focus in step three is not on the reasonableness of the explanation, but rather its genuineness. Throughout this process, the burden of persuasion never leaves the opponent of the strike to prove purposeful racial discrimination. Voir dire proceedings are extraordinarily rich in diversity and no rigid set of rules will work in every case. Accordingly, 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. (Id. at 764-65.)