Powers v. Ohio
Annotate this Case
499 U.S. 400 (1991)
U.S. Supreme Court
Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400 (1991)
Powers v. Ohio
Argued Oct. 9, 1990
Decided April 1, 1991
499 U.S. 400
During jury selection at his state court trial for aggravated murder and related offenses, petitioner Powers, a white man, objected to the State's use of peremptory challenges to remove seven black venirepersons from the jury. Powers' objections, which were based on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79, were overruled, the impaneled jury convicted him on several counts, and he was sentenced to prison. On appeal, he contended that the State's discriminatory use of peremptories violated, inter alia, the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and that his own race was irrelevant to the right to object to the peremptories. The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction.
Held: Under the Equal Protection Clause, a criminal defendant may object to race-based exclusions of jurors through peremptory challenges whether or not the defendant and the excluded jurors share the same race. Pp. 499 U. S. 404-416.
(a) The Equal Protection Clause prohibits a prosecutor from using the State's peremptory challenges to exclude otherwise qualified and unbiased persons from the petit jury solely by reason of their race. See, e.g., Batson, supra, at 476 U. S. 84; Holland v. Illinois, 493 U. S. 474. Contrary to Ohio's contention, racial identity between the objecting defendant and the excluded jurors does not constitute a relevant precondition for a Batson challenge, and would, in fact, contravene the substantive guarantees of the Equal Protection Clause and the policies underlying federal statutory law. Although Batson did involve such an identity, it recognized that the State's discriminatory use of peremptories harms the excluded jurors by depriving them of a significant opportunity to participate in civil life. 476 U.S. at 476 U. S. 87. Moreover, the discriminatory selection of jurors has been the subject of a federal criminal prohibition since Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Thus, although an individual juror does not have the right to sit on any particular petit jury, he or she does possess the right not to be excluded from one on account of race. This Court rejects, as contrary to accepted equal protection principles, the arguments that no particular stigma or dishonor results if a prosecutor uses the raw fact of skin color to determine a juror's objectivity or qualifications, see Batson, supra, at 476 U. S. 87, and that race-based
(b) A criminal defendant has standing to raise the third-party equal protection claims of jurors excluded by the prosecution because of their race. Cf., e.g., Singleton v. Wulff, 428 U. S. 106, 428 U. S. 112-116. First, the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges causes the defendant cognizable injury, and he or she has a concrete interest in challenging the practice, because racial discrimination in jury selection casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial process and places the fairness of the criminal proceeding in doubt. Second, the relationship between the defendant and the excluded jurors is such that he or she is fully as effective a proponent of their rights as they themselves would be, since both have a common interest in eliminating racial discrimination from the courtroom, and there can be no doubt that the defendant will be a motivated, effective advocate because proof of a discriminatorily constituted jury may lead to the reversal of the conviction under Batson, supra, 476 U.S. at 476 U. S. 100. Third, it is unlikely that a juror dismissed because of race will possess sufficient incentive to set in motion the arduous process needed to vindicate his or her own rights. Thus, the fact that Powers' race differs from that of the excluded jurors is irrelevant to his standing to object to the discriminatory use of peremptories. Pp. 499 U. S. 410-416.
Reversed and remanded.
KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, post, p. 499 U. S. 417.