514 U.S. 765 (1995), 94-802, Purkett v. Elem

Docket Nº:No. 94-802
Citation:514 U.S. 765, 115 S.Ct. 1769, 131 L.Ed.2d 834, 63 U.S.L.W. 3807, 63 U.S.L.W. 3814
Party Name:PURKETT, SUPERINTENDENT, FARMINGTON CORRECTIONAL CENTER v. ELEM
Case Date:May 15, 1995
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 765

514 U.S. 765 (1995)

115 S.Ct. 1769, 131 L.Ed.2d 834, 63 U.S.L.W. 3807, 63 U.S.L.W. 3814

PURKETT, SUPERINTENDENT, FARMINGTON CORRECTIONAL CENTER

v.

ELEM

No. 94-802

United States Supreme Court

May 15, 1995

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATE COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHT CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Relying on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, respondent objected to a prosecutor's use of a peremptory challenge to strike, inter alios, a black male juror from the jury at his robbery trial. The Missouri trial court overruled the objection after the prosecutor explained that he struck the juror because of the juror's long, unkempt hair, his moustache, and his beard. The jury was empaneled, and respondent was convicted. On direct appeal, the State Court of Appeals affirmed the Batson ruling, concluding that the prosecution had not engaged in purposeful discrimination. In denying respondent's subsequent petition for habeas corpus, the Federal District Court concluded that the state courts' purposeful discrimination determination was a factual finding entitled to a presumption of correctness and that the finding had support in the record. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prosecution's explanation for striking the juror was pretextual and that the trial court had clearly erred in finding no intentional discrimination.

Held:

The Court of Appeals erred in its evaluation of respondent's Batson claim. Under Batson, once the opponent of a peremptory challenge has made out a prima facie racial discrimination case (step one), the proponent of the strike must come forward with a race-neutral explanation (step two). If such an explanation is given, the trial court must decide (step three) whether the opponent has proved purposeful racial discrimination. Step two requires only that the prosecution provide a race- neutral justification for the exclusion, not that the prosecution show that the justification is plausible. The prosecutor's explanation in this case satisfied step two, and the state court found that the prosecutor was not motivated by discriminatory intent. In federal habeas proceedings, a state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct if they are fairly supported by the record. The Court of Appeals erred by combining the second and third steps. In doing so, the court did not conclude or even attempt to conclude that the state court's finding of no racial motive was not supported by the record, for its whole focus was upon the motive's reasonableness rather than its genuineness.

Certiorari granted; 25 F.3d 679, reversed and remanded.

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Per Curiam

Respondent was convicted of second-degree robbery in a Missouri court. During jury selection, he objected to the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike two black men from the jury panel, an objection arguably based on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The prosecutor explained his strikes:

"I struck [juror] number twenty-two because of his long hair. He had long curly hair. He had the longest hair of anybody on the panel by far. He appeared to me to not be a good juror for that fact, the fact that he had long hair hanging down shoulder length, curly, unkempt hair. Also, he had a mustache and a goatee type beard. And juror number twenty-four also has a mustache and goatee type beard. Those are the only two people on the jury . . . with the facial hair . . . . And I don't like the way they looked, with the way the hair is cut, both of them. And the mustaches and the beards look suspicious to me." App. to Pet. for Cert. A- 41.

The prosecutor further explained that he feared that juror number 24, who had had a sawed-off shotgun pointed at him during a supermarket robbery, would believe that "to have a robbery you have to have a gun, and there is no gun in this case." Ibid.

The state trial court, without explanation, overruled respondent's objection and empaneled the jury. On direct appeal, respondent renewed his Batson claim. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the "state's explanation constituted a legitimate 'hunch' " and that "[t]he circumstances fail[ed] to raise the necessary inference of racial discrimination." State v. Elem, 747 S.W.2d 772, 775 (Mo. App. 1988).

Respondent then filed a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting this and other claims. Adopting the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation, the District

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Court concluded that the Missouri courts' determination that there had been no purposeful discrimination was a factual finding entitled to a presumption of correctness under § 2254(d). Since the finding had support in the record, the District Court denied respondent's claim.

The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded with instructions to grant the writ of habeas corpus. It said:

"[W]here the prosecution strikes a prospective juror who is a member of the defendant's racial group, solely on the basis of factors which are facially irrelevant to the question of whether that person is qualified to serve as a juror in the particular case, the prosecution must at least articulate some plausible race-neutral reason for believing those factors will somehow affect the person's ability to perform his or her duties as a juror. In the present case, the prosecutor's comments, 'I don't like the way [he] look[s], with the way the hair is cut. . . . And the mustach[e] and the bear[d] look suspicious to me,' do not constitute such legitimate race-neutral reasons for striking juror 22." 25 F.3d 679, 683 (1994).

It concluded that the "prosecution's explanation for striking juror 22 . . . was pretextual," and that the state trial court had "clearly erred" in finding that striking juror number 22 had not been intentional discrimination. Id., at 684.

Under our Batson jurisprudence, once the opponent of a peremptory challenge has made out a prima facie case of racial discrimination (step one), the burden of production shifts to the proponent of the strike to come forward with a race-neutral explanation (step two). If a race-neutral explanation is tendered, the trial court must then decide (step three) whether the opponent of the strike has proved purposeful racial discrimination. Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 358- 359 (1991) (plurality opinion); id., at 375 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment); Batson, supra, at 96- 98. The

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second step of this process does not demand an explanation that is persuasive, or even plausible. "At this [second] step of the inquiry, the issue is the facial validity of the prosecutor's explanation. Unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the prosecutor's explanation, the reason offered will be deemed race neutral." Hernandez, 500 U.S., at 360 (plurality opinion); id., at 374 (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment).

The Court of Appeals erred by combining Batson 's second and third steps into one, requiring that the justification tendered at the second step be not just neutral but also at least minimally persuasive, i.e. , a "plausible" basis for believing that "the person's ability to perform his or her...

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