Peremptory Challenges In a Death Penalty Cases

In cases that may involve imprisonment, but not death, each side is given six peremptory challenges, and two per side where there would be no prison sentence. In a death penalty case, at least 18 citizens show up and undergo voir dire examination and are sent away for no stated reason. The number is usually more than 18 because peremptory challenges are also allowed when alternate jurors are being selected. It is possible, but not likely, that some peremptory challenges will be unused. This is a waste of time. for a juror to discern that his or her race may have been a factor is to add insult to the waste-of-time injury. This is not a proper way for the state to treat its citizens, especially those who come when summoned for service. If we, as a democratic society, believe the jury system is essential, then we ought to foster respect for this service.See State ex rel. Linthicum v. Calvin, 57 S.W.3d 855, (Mo banc 2001) (separate opinion of Wolff, J.). We depend on the challenge for cause to remove prospective jurors who are biased or otherwise unsuitable for a particular case. The benefit of the peremptory strike is that it helps ensure a fair trial when the trial judge is wrong in overruling a challenge for cause. In light of the deference appropriately given to trial court rulings, a trial judge can be incorrect in overruling a challenge for cause without committing reversible error. But how many safety valves are needed for a fair trial? Nine or even six peremptory challenges seem wildly excessive. On challenges for cause, as in many other trial events, the correctness of trial court rulings is appropriately assumed. One or two peremptory challenges should be enough. If the number of peremptory challenges were reduced to one or two, juries in racially diverse counties would more likely be representative of the community. More importantly, such a move would drastically reduce the often subtle yet always insidious racial discrimination inherent in many peremptory challenges.