Voir dire / peremptory challenge / Batson challenge

"Petitioner Allen Snyder was convicted of first-degree murder in a Louisiana court and was sentenced to death.  He asks us to review a decision of the Louisiana Supreme Court rejecting his claim that the prosecution exercised some of its peremptory jury challenges based on race, in violation of Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986)."

"Voir dire began on Tuesday, August 27, 1996, and proceeded as follows. . . .  Eighty-five prospective jurors were questioned as members of a panel.  Thirty-six of these survived challenges for cause; 5 of the 36 were black; and all 5 of the prospective black jurors were eliminated by the prosecution through the use of peremptory strikes."

"Batson provides a three-step process for a trial court to use in adjudicating a claim that a peremptory challenge was based on race:  First, a defendant must make a prima facie showing that a peremptory challenge has been exercised on the basis of race; second, if that showing has been made, the prosecution must offer a race-neutral basis for striking the juror in question; and third, in light of the parties' submissions, the trial court must determine whether the defendant has shown purposeful discrimination."

"Petitioner centers his Batson claim on the prosecution's strikes of two black jurors, Jeffrey Brooks and Elaine Scott.  Because we find that the trial court committed clear error in overruling petitioner's Batson objection with respect to Mr. Brooks, we have no need to consider petitioner's claim regarding Ms. Scott."

"[The] peremptory strike [of Mr. Brooks has been] shown to have been motivated in substantial part by discriminatory intent [and] could not be sustained based on any lesser showing by the prosecution.  And in light of the circumstances here - including absence of anything in the record showing that the trial judge credited the claim that Mr. Brooks was nervous . . . the record does not show that the prosecution would have pre-emptively challenged Mr. Brooks based on his nervousness alone."