Can Race Be a Reason to Strike a Juror In Texas ?

In Hill v. State, 827 S.W.2d 860, 866 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992), in answer to a Batson claim, the court held, "We agree that race may be a factor coexisting with a non-racial reason for a strike, however, race may not be the reason for the strike." Id. Under Hill, the fact that a prosecutor mentions race as part of his explanation for a peremptory challenge is indicative, but not conclusive, of purposeful discrimination in the case. Id. at 869. However, Hill was a plurality decision with four judges joining this proposition, four judges joining a concurring opinion stating that race may never be even a factor in a "race neutral" reason for a strike, and the ninth judge concurring in the result. See id. at 870 & 874. The court of criminal appeals has not revisited this area since Hill, but the Texas Supreme Court, before the issuance of Hill, rejected the reasoning of the aforementioned plurality's holding in favor of the position taken in the concurring opinion. See Powers v. Palacios, 813 S.W.2d 489, 491 (Tex. 1991). In Powers, because the plaintiff made a Batson challenge, the defendant was called upon to give a reason for his strike of a black woman. See id. at 490 n.1. The defendant stated that race "certainly figured into [the peremptory strike against a black female], but . . . was not the sole reason for striking her . . . ." See id. In reversing the judgment and remanding the case for a new trial, the unanimous court held: In Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 767, 131 L. Ed. 2d 834, 115 S. Ct. 1769 (1995), the United States Supreme Court delineated the three-step procedure to properly determine a Batson challenge: (1) the opponent of a peremptory challenge has the initial burden of production to make out a prima facie case of racial discrimination; (2) the burden of production then shifts to the proponent of the strike to respond with a race-neutral explanation; (3) if a race-neutral explanation is proffered, the third step requires the opponent to show that the proponent exercised purposeful discrimination. The opponent must rebut the explanation or show that it was merely a sham or pretext. See Williams v. State, 804 S.W.2d 95, 101 (Tex. Crim. App.), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1239, 115 L. Ed. 2d 1038, 111 S. Ct. 2875 (1991); Bausley v. State, 997 S.W.2d 313, 316 (Tex. App.-Dallas 1999, pet. ref'd). The trial court must then decide whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful discrimination. the Supreme Court stressed that the "ultimate burden of persuasion regarding racial motivation rests with, and never shifts from, the opponent of the strike." Purkett, 514 U.S. at 768. Therefore, once the State proponent proffers race-neutral explanations for its peremptory strikes, the burden is on the defendant opponent to convince the trial court that the prosecution's reasons were not race-neutral. See Camacho v. State, 864 S.W.2d 524, 529 (Tex. Crim. App. 1993) (citing Tennard v. State, 802 S.W.2d 678 (Tex. Crim. App. 1990), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1259, 115 L. Ed. 2d 1077, 111 S. Ct. 2914 (1991)), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1215, 114 S. Ct. 1339, 127 L. Ed. 2d 687 (1994)); Tompkins v. State, 774 S.W.2d 195, 201 (Tex. Crim. App.1987). The burden of persuasion never shifts from the opponent. On appeal we will not reverse a trial court's decision unless it is "clearly erroneous." Fuentes v. State, 991 S.W.2d 267, 278 (Tex. Crim. App.), cert. denied, 145 L. Ed. 2d 420, 120 S. Ct. 541 (1999). the role of the reviewing court is to determine whether the trial court's ruling is supported by the record. See Tennard, 802 S.W.2d at 680. If the Batson rulings are supported by the record and are not clearly erroneous, they will not be disturbed on appeal. See Fuentes, 991 S.W.2d at 278; see also; Cantu v. State, 842 S.W.2d 667, 689 (Tex. Crim. App. 1992) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 509 U.S. 926, 113 S. Ct. 3046, 125 L. Ed. 2d 731 (1993). In evaluating the race- neutrality of the explanation, a court must determine whether, assuming the proffered reasons for the peremptory challenges are true, the challenges violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution as a matter of law. Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 359. The court must remember, however, that "official action will not be held unconstitutional solely because it results in a racially disproportionate impact." Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 359-60 (quoting Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 264-65, 50 L. Ed. 2d 450, 97 S. Ct. 555 (1977)). "Proof of racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause." Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 360 (quoting Arlington Heights, 429 U.S. at 264-65).