U.S. Supreme Court

Peremptories Re-Examined

A black death-row inmate is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his challenge to a prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to help keep blacks off his jury.

In his Sidebar column for the New York Times (sub. req.), Adam Liptak writes about Allen Snyder, sentenced to death for killing his wife’s boyfriend by an all-white jury in suburban New Orleans. Prosecutors removed five blacks using peremptories—which allow removal of a potential juror for almost any reason—and removed four other blacks for cause.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Batson v. Kentucky that race cannot be a reason to exercise a peremptory challenge. But the decision is difficult to apply, since prosecutors can cite race-neutral reasons for their peremptory strikes, Liptak writes.

The state supreme court affirmed Snyder’s sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court asked for a review of Snyder’s case. The Jefferson County District Attorney urges the high court to let that decision stand.

In Miller-El v. Dretke, 125 S. Ct. 2317 (2005), the Supreme Court said courts can consider broad patterns and practices by prosecutors when evaluating Batson challenges to peremptories.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote a concurring opinion in Miller-El suggesting another alternative: Eliminate peremptories entirely.

Liptak cites a study by the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center that suggests a pattern. It shows the prosecutor’s office in Jefferson Parish used peremptory challenges to remove blacks three times as often as whites.

Liptak concludes it may be time to consider eliminating peremptories.

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