Thursday, June 01, 2006

S.C. Court of Appeals issues instructive opinion on burden shifting under Batson

In State v. Cochran, the State Court of Appeals held that the trial court's handling of a Batson hearing in effect placed the burden on Appellants to prove the absence of purposeful discrimination even after Appellants articulated race-neutral reasons for their strikes. Because jurors properly struck were seated on a second jury, which found Appellants guilty, the error was reversible.

Here's an example of some of the trial court's faulty reasoning:

Defense counsel struck Juror 78, a white woman, because she was the wife and office manager of a prominent dentist in the community. The employment status of a prospective juror is a race-neutral reason for using a peremptory challenge. Before the State had an opportunity to carry its burden by showing pretext, the trial court asked defense counsel if he knew Juror 78. The trial court held that the strike violated Batson because the defense attorney did not know the juror and it was improper "to prejudice somebody by their position."

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