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The right to challenge a juror without assigning, or being required to assign, a reason for the challenge.
During the selection of a jury, both parties to the proceeding may challenge prospective jurors for a lack of impartiality, known as a challenge for cause. A party may challenge an unlimited number of prospective jurors for cause. Parties also may exercise a limited number of peremptory challenges. These challenges permit a party to remove a prospective juror without giving a reason for the removal.
Peremptory challenges provide a more impartial and better qualified jury. Peremptory challenges allow an attorney to reject a potential juror for real or imagined partiality that would be difficult to demonstrate under the challenge for cause category. These challenges, however, have become more difficult to exercise because the U.S. Supreme Court has forbidden peremptory strikes based on race or gender.
Parties do not have a federal constitutional right to exercise peremptory challenges. Peremptory challenges are granted by statute or by case law. The number of challenges is usually determined by statute, but some jurisdictions allow the trial court to grant additional peremptory challenges. In federal court each side is entitled to three peremptory challenges. If more than two parties are involved in the proceeding, the court may either grant additional challenges or restrict the parties to the minimum number of challenges.
Peremptory challenges came under legal attack in the 1980s. Critics claimed that white prosecutors used their peremptory challenges to remove African Americans from the jury when the criminal defendant was also African American because the prosecutors thought that the potential jurors would be sympathetic to a member of their own race. This constituted racial discrimination and a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause.
The U.S. Supreme Court, in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S. Ct. 1712, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69 (1986), prohibited prosecutors from excluding prospective jurors on the basis of race. Under the Batson test, a defendant may object to a prosecutor's peremptory challenge. The prosecutor then must "come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging black jurors." If the prosecutor cannot offer a neutral explanation, the court will not excuse the juror.
The Court extended this holding in criminal proceedings in two later cases. In Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 111 S. Ct. 1364, 113 L. Ed. 2d 411 (1991), the Court broadened the Batson rule by stating that a defendant need not be of the same race as the excluded juror in order to successfully challenge the juror's exclusion. In Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42, 112 S. Ct. 2348, 120 L. Ed. 2d 33 (1992), the Court held that the defense's exercise of peremptory challenges to strike African American jurors on the basis of their race was equally forbidden. Previously, the court had ruled in Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614, 111 S. Ct. 2077, 114 L. Ed. 2d 660 (1991), that in civil trials a private party could not exclude prospective jurors on account of their race by using peremptory challenges. This series of decisions makes any racial exclusion in jury selection constitutionally suspect.
The Supreme Court has also forbidden peremptory challenges based on gender. In J. E. B. v. Alabama, 511 U.S. 127, 114 S. Ct. 1419, 128 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1994), the Court ruled that striking jurors on the basis of gender serves to perpetuate stereotypes that are prejudicial and based on historical discrimination. No overriding state interest justified peremptory challenges on the basis of gender. Permitting gender-based strikes could also have undermined the Batson holding, because gender might be used as an excuse for racial discrimination.
In an extension of Batson, the Supreme Court of Connecticut ruled that the Equal Protection Clause barred the prosecutor from striking prospective jurors based on their religious affiliation. The court, in State v. Hodge, 726 A.2d 531 (Conn.1999), distinguished religious beliefs and religious affiliations. It held that litigants could strike prospective jurors whose religious beliefs would prevent them from performing their duties as jurors.
Beck, Cobrun R. 1998."The Current State of the Peremptory Challenge." William and Mary Law Review 39 (February).
Fahey, William F. 1996. "Peremptory Challenges." Federal Lawyer 43 (October).
Hoffman, Morris B. 1997. "Peremptory Challenges Should Be Abolished: A Trial Judge's Perspective." University of Chicago Law Review 64 (summer).
Schwartz, Edward P., and Warren F. Schwartz. 1996. "The Challenge of Peremptory Challenges." Journal of Law, Economics & Organization 12 (October).