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Georgia v. McCollum

    Brief Fact Summary. A prosecutor filed a motion prior to trial of a potential hate crime, to stop defense counsel from exercising peremptory challenges on the basis of race.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. “[T]he Constitution prohibits a criminal defendant from engaging in purposeful discrimination on the ground of race in the exercise of peremptory challenges. Accordingly, if the State demonstrates a prima facie case of racial discrimination by the defendants, the defendants must articulate a racially neutral explanation for peremptory challenges.”

    Facts. Respondents were charged with aggravated assault and simple battery. The indictment alleged that the Respondents beat and assaulted two individuals. The Respondents are white and the victims were African American. Prior to jury selection, the prosecution moved to prohibit the Respondents from using peremptory challenges in a racial manner. The trial judge denied the state’s motion. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

    Issue. “[W]hether the Constitution prohibits a criminal defendant from engaging in purposeful racial discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges[?]”

    Held. “In deciding whether the Constitution prohibits criminal defendants from exercising racially discriminatory peremptory challenges, we must answer four questions. First, whether a criminal defendant’s exercise of peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory manner inflicts the harms addressed by Batson. Second, whether the exercise of peremptory challenges by a criminal defendant constitutes state action. Third, whether prosecutors have standing to raise this constitutional challenge. And fourth, whether the constitutional rights of a criminal defendant nonetheless preclude the extension of our precedents to this case.”
    “Selection procedures that purposefully exclude African-Americans from juries undermine that public confidence – as well they should. ‘The overt wrong, often apparent to the entire jury panel, casts doubt over the obligation of the parties, the jury, and indeed the court to adhere to the law throughout the trial of the cause.’ ”
    “The need for public confidence is especially high in cases involving race-related crimes. In such cases, emotions in the affected community will inevitably be heated and volatile. Public confidence in the integrity of the criminal justice system is essential for preserving community peace in trials involving race-related crimes.”
    “Just as public confidence in criminal justice is undermined by a conviction in a trial where racial discrimination has occurred in jury selection, so is public confidence undermined where a defendant, assisted by racially discriminatory peremptory strikes, obtains an acquittal.”
    “The first inquiry is ‘whether the claimed [constitutional] deprivation has resulted from the exercise of a right or privilege having its source in state authority. There can be no question that peremptory challenges satisfy this first requirement, as they are permitted only when the government, by statute or decisional law, deems it appropriate to allow parties to exclude a given number of persons who otherwise would satisfy the requirements for service on the petit jury.’ ”
    “The second inquiry is whether the private party charged with the deprivation can be described as a state actor. In resolving that issue, the Court in Edmonson found it useful to apply three principles: (1) ‘the extent to which the actor relies on governmental assistance and benefits’; (2) ‘whether the actor is performing a traditional governmental function’; and (3) ‘whether the injury caused is aggravated in a unique way by the incidents of governmental authority.’ ”
    “As to the first principle, the Edmonson Court found that the peremptory challenge system, as well as the jury system as a whole, ‘simply could not exist’ without the ‘overt and significant participation of the government.’ ”
    “In regard to the second principle, the Court in Edmonson found that peremptory challenges perform a traditional function of the government: ‘Their sole purpose is to permit litigants to assist the government in the selection of an impartial trier of fact.’ ”
    Third, “the Edmonson Court indicated that the courtroom setting in which the peremptory challenge is exercised intensifies the harmful effects of the private litigant’s discriminatory act, and contributes to its characterization as state action.”
    “The exercise of a peremptory challenge differs significantly from other actions taken in support of a defendant’s defense. In exercising a peremptory challenge, a criminal defendant is wielding the power to choose a quintessential governmental body – indeed, the institution of government on which our judicial system depends. Thus, as we held in Edmonson, when ‘a government confers on a private body the power to choose the government’s employees or officials, the private body will be bound by the constitutional mandate of race-neutrality. Lastly, the fact that a defendant exercises a peremptory challenge to further his interest in acquittal does not conflict with a finding of state action. Whenever a private actor’s conduct is deemed ‘fairly attributable’ to the government, it is likely that private motives will have animated the actor’s decision. Indeed, in Edmonson, the Court recognized that the private party’s exercise of peremptory challenges constituted state action, even thou
    gh the motive underlying the exercise of the peremptory challenge may be to protect a private interest.’ ”
    “We recognize, of course, that a defendant has the right to an impartial jury that can view him without racial animus, which so long has distorted our system of criminal justice. We have, accordingly, held that there should be a mechanism for removing those on the venire whom the defendant has specific reason to believe would be incapable of confronting and suppressing their racism.


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