499 U.S. 400 (1991), 89-5011, Powers v. Ohio

Docket Nº:No. 89-5011
Citation:499 U.S. 400, 111 S.Ct. 1364, 113 L.Ed.2d 411, 59 U.S.L.W. 4268
Party Name:Powers v. Ohio
Case Date:April 01, 1991
Court:United States Supreme Court

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499 U.S. 400 (1991)

111 S.Ct. 1364, 113 L.Ed.2d 411, 59 U.S.L.W. 4268




No. 89-5011

United States Supreme Court

April 1, 1991

Argued Oct. 9, 1990




During jury selection at his state court trial for aggravated murder and related offenses, petitioner Powers, a white man, objected to the State's use of peremptory challenges to remove seven black venirepersons from the jury. Powers' objections, which were based on Batson v. Kentucky, [111 S.Ct. 1365] 476 U.S. 79, were overruled, the impaneled jury convicted him on several counts, and he was sentenced to prison. On appeal, he contended that the State's discriminatory use of peremptories violated, inter alia, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and that his own race was irrelevant to the right to object to the peremptories. The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction.

Held: Under the Equal Protection Clause, a criminal defendant may object to race-based exclusions of jurors through peremptory challenges whether or not the defendant and the excluded jurors share the same race. Pp. 404-416.

(a) The Equal Protection Clause prohibits a prosecutor from using the State's peremptory challenges to exclude otherwise qualified and unbiased persons from the petit jury solely by reason of their race. See, e.g., Batson, supra, at 84; Holland v. Illinois, 493 U.S. 474. Contrary to Ohio's contention, racial identity between the objecting defendant and the excluded jurors does not constitute a relevant precondition for a Batson challenge, and would, in fact, contravene the substantive guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause and the policies underlying federal statutory law. Although Batson did involve such an identity, it recognized that the State's discriminatory use of peremptories harms the excluded jurors by depriving them of a significant opportunity to participate in civil life. 476 U.S. at 87. Moreover, the discriminatory selection of jurors has been the subject of a federal criminal prohibition since Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Thus, although an individual juror does not have the right to sit on any particular petit jury, he or she does possess the right not to be excluded from one on account of race. This Court rejects, as contrary to accepted equal protection principles, the arguments that no particular stigma or dishonor results if a prosecutor uses the raw fact of skin color to determine a juror's objectivity or qualifications, see Batson, supra, at 87, and that race-based

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peremptory challenges are permissible when visited upon members of all races in equal degree, see Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1. Pp. 410-416.

(b) A criminal defendant has standing to raise the third-party equal protection claims of jurors excluded by the prosecution because of their race. Cf., e.g., Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U.S. 106, 112-116. First, the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges causes the defendant cognizable injury, and he or she has a concrete interest in challenging the practice, because racial discrimination in jury selection casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process and places the fairness of the criminal proceeding in doubt. Second, the relationship between the defendant and the excluded jurors is such that he or she is fully as effective a proponent of their rights as they themselves would be, since both have a common interest in eliminating racial discrimination from the courtroom, and there can be no doubt that the defendant will be a motivated, effective advocate because proof of a discriminatorily constituted jury may lead to the reversal of the conviction under Batson, supra, 476 U.S. at 100. Third, it is unlikely that a juror dismissed because of race will possess sufficient incentive to set in motion the arduous process needed to vindicate his or her own rights. Thus, the fact that Powers' race differs from that of the excluded jurors is irrelevant to his standing to object to the discriminatory use of peremptories. Pp. 410-416.

Reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, post, p. 417.

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KENNEDY, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.

Jury service is an exercise of responsible citizenship by all members of the community, including those who otherwise might not have the opportunity to contribute to our civic life. Congress recognized this over a century ago in the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which made it a criminal offense to exclude persons from jury service on account of their race. See 18 U.S.C. § 243. In a trilogy of cases decided soon after enactment of this prohibition, our Court confirmed the validity of the statute, as well as the broader constitutional imperative of race-neutrality in jury selection. See Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880); Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313 (1880); Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339 (1880). In the many times we have confronted the issue since those cases, we have not questioned the premise that racial discrimination in the qualification or selection of jurors offends the dignity of persons and the integrity of the courts. Despite the clarity of these commands to eliminate the taint of racial discrimination in the administration of justice, allegations of bias in the jury selection process persist. In this case, petitioner alleges race discrimination in the prosecution's use of peremptory challenges. Invoking the Equal Protection Clause and federal statutory law, and relying upon well-established principles of standing, we hold that a criminal defendant may object to race-based exclusions of jurors effected through peremptory challenges whether or not the defendant and the excluded juror share the same race.


Petitioner Larry Joe Powers, a white man, was indicted in Franklin County, Ohio on two counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted aggravated murder. Each count also included a separate allegation that petitioner had a firearm while committing the offense. Powers pleaded not guilty and invoked his right to a jury trial.

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In the jury selection process, Powers objected when the prosecutor exercised his first peremptory challenge to remove a black venireperson. Powers requested the trial court to compel the prosecutor to explain, on the record, his reasons for excluding a black person. The trial court denied the request and excused the juror. The State proceeded to use nine more peremptory challenges, six of which removed black venirepersons from the jury. Each time the prosecution challenged a black prospective juror, Powers renewed his objections, citing our decision in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). His objections were overruled. The record does not indicate that race was somehow implicated in the crime or the trial; nor does it reveal whether any black persons sat on petitioner's petit jury or if any of the nine jurors the petitioner excused by peremptory challenges were black persons.

The impaneled jury convicted Powers on counts of murder, aggravated murder, and attempted aggravated murder, each with the firearm specifications, and the trial court sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of 53 years to life. Powers appealed his conviction to the Ohio Court of Appeals, contending that the prosecutor's discriminatory use of peremptories violated the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of a fair cross-section in his petit jury, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and Article I, §§ 10 and 16, of the Ohio Constitution. Powers contended that his own race was irrelevant to the right to object to the prosecution's peremptory challenges. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, and the Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed Powers' appeal on [111 S.Ct. 1367] the ground that it presented no substantial constitutional question.

Petitioner sought review before us, renewing his Sixth Amendment fair cross-section and Fourteenth Amendment equal protection claims. While the petition for certiorari was pending, we decided Holland v. Illinois, 493 U.S. 474 (1990). In Holland, it was alleged the prosecution had used its peremptory challenges to exclude from the jury members

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of a race other than the defendant's. We held the Sixth Amendment did not restrict the exclusion of a racial group at the peremptory challenge stage. Five members of the Court there said a defendant might be able to make the objection on equal protection grounds. See id. at 488 (KENNEDY, J., concurring); id. at 490 (MARSHALL, J., dissenting, joined by Brennan and BLACKMUN, JJ.); id. at 504 (STEVENS, J., dissenting). After our decision in Holland, we granted Powers' petition for certiorari limited to the question whether, based on the Equal Protection Clause, a white defendant may object to the prosecution's peremptory challenges of black venirepersons. 493 U.S. 474 (1990). We now reverse and remand.


For over a century, this Court has been unyielding in its position that a defendant is denied equal protection of the laws when tried before a jury from which members of his or her race have been excluded by the State's purposeful conduct.

The Equal Protection Clause guarantees the defendant that the State will not exclude members of his race from the jury venire on account of race, Strauder, [100 U.S.] at 305, or on the false assumption that members of his race as a group are not qualified to serve as jurors, see Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 599 (1935); Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370, 397 (1881).

Batson, supra, 476 U.S. at 86. Although a defendant has no right to a "petit jury composed in whole or in part of persons of [the defendant's] own race," Strauder, 100 U.S. at 305,...

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