What Does Peremptory Challenge Mean in Court ?

In the typical peremptory challenge inquiry, te decisive question will be whether counsel's race-neutral explanation for a peremptory challenge should be believed. There will seldom be much evidence bearing on that issue, and the best evidence often will be the demeanor of the attorney who exercises the challenge. As with the state of mind of a juror, evaluation of the . . . attorney's state of mind based on demeanor and credibility lies "peculiarly within a trial judge's province." Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 365 (quoting Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 428, 83 L. Ed. 2d 841, 105 S. Ct. 844 (1985)). Since the issue of intentional discrimination, as acknowledged by the high court in Batson, is essentially a credibility issue, we afford trial courts "substantial discretion in determining whether the reasons articulated by the striking party are merely pretextual. Parham, 200 W. Va. at 615, 490 S.E.2d at 702 (citing State v. Rahman, 199 W. Va. 144, 159, 483 S.E.2d 273, 288 (1996) (Cleckley, J., concurring)). Peremptory challenges have been recognized as "'one of the most important of the rights'" in our judicial system. Batson, 476 U.S. at 120 (Burger, J., dissenting) (quoting Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 219, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759, 85 S. Ct. 824 (1965)). As discussed by Justice Burger in his dissent to Batson, "peremptory challenges are often lodged, of necessity, for reasons 'normally thought irrelevant to legal proceedings or official action, namely, . . . religion, nationality, occupation or affiliations of people summoned for jury duty.'" 476 U.S. 79 at 123 (quoting Swain, 380 U.S. 202 at 220, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759, 85 S. Ct. 824). Like it or not, the peremptory challenge system inherently involves the elimination of jurors based on perceived biases and, given the limited biographical information available to counsel, it is necessarily founded on assumptions, hunches, and intuition. See 476 U.S. at 123. Recognizing that peremptory challenges serve to strengthen our jury system, the dissenters to Batson observed: "The peremptory, made without giving any reason, avoids trafficking in the core of truth in most common stereotypes . . . .Common human experience, common sense, psychosociological studies, and public opinion polls tell us that it is likely that certain classes of people statistically have predispositions that would make them inappropriate jurors for particular kinds of cases. . . . We have evolved in the peremptory challenge a system that allows the covert expression of what we dare not say but know is true more often than not." 476 U.S. at 121 (Burger, J., dissenting) (quoting Babcock, Voir Dire: Preserving "Its Wonderful Power," 27 Stan.L.Rev. 545, 553-54 (1975)). As the Supreme Court observed in Swain,The function of the peremptory challenge is not only to eliminate extremes of partiality on both sides, but to assure the parties that the jurors before whom they try the case will decide on the basis of the evidence placed before them, and not otherwise. In this way the peremptory satisfies the rule that "to perform its high function in the best way 'justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.'" In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 99 L. Ed. 942, 75 S. Ct. 623 1955. Indeed the very availability of peremptories allows counsel to ascertain the possibility of bias through probing questions on voir dire and facilitates the exercise of challenges for cause by removing the fear of incurring a juror's hostility through examination and challenge for cause. 380 U.S. at 219-20.