Purkett v. Elem,
514 U.S. 765 (1995)

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No. 94-802. Decided May 15, 1995

Relying on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79, respondent objected to a prosecutor's use of a peremptory challenge to strike, inter alios, a black male juror from the jury at his robbery trial. The Missouri trial court overruled the objection after the prosecutor explained that he struck the juror because of the juror's long, unkempt hair, his moustache, and his beard. The jury was empaneled, and respondent was convicted. On direct appeal, the State Court of Appeals affirmed the Batson ruling, concluding that the prosecution had not engaged in purposeful discrimination. In denying respondent's subsequent petition for habeas corpus, the Federal District Court concluded that the state courts' purposeful discrimination determination was a factual finding entitled to a presumption of correctness and that the finding had support in the record. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the prosecution's explanation for striking the juror was pretextual and that the trial court had clearly erred in finding no intentional discrimination.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in its evaluation of respondent's Batson claim. Under Batson, once the opponent of a peremptory challenge has made out a prima facie racial discrimination case (step one), the proponent of the strike must come forward with a race-neutral explanation (step two). If such an explanation is given, the trial court must decide (step three) whether the opponent has proved purposeful racial discrimination. Step two requires only that the prosecution provide a raceneutral justification for the exclusion, not that the prosecution show that the justification is plausible. The prosecutor's explanation in this case satisfied step two, and the state court found that the prosecutor was not motivated by discriminatory intent. In federal habeas proceedings, a state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct if they are fairly supported by the record. The Court of Appeals erred by combining the second and third steps. In doing so, the court did not conclude or even attempt to conclude that the state court's finding of no racial motive was not supported by the record, for its whole focus was upon the motive's reasonableness rather than its genuineness.

Certiorari granted; 25 F.3d 679, reversed and remanded.


Per Curiam


Respondent was convicted of second-degree robbery in a Missouri court. During jury selection, he objected to the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges to strike two black men from the jury panel, an objection arguably based on Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79 (1986). The prosecutor explained his strikes:

"I struck [juror] number twenty-two because of his long hair. He had long curly hair. He had the longest hair of anybody on the panel by far. He appeared to me to not be a good juror for that fact, the fact that he had long hair hanging down shoulder length, curly, unkempt hair. Also, he had a mustache and a goatee type beard. And juror number twenty-four also has a mustache and goatee type beard. Those are the only two people on the jury ... with the facial hair .... And I don't like the way they looked, with the way the hair is cut, both of them. And the mustaches and the beards look suspicious to me." App. to Pet. for Cert. A-41.

The prosecutor further explained that he feared that juror number 24, who had had a sawed-off shotgun pointed at him during a supermarket robbery, would believe that "to have a robbery you have to have a gun, and there is no gun in this case." Ibid.

The state trial court, without explanation, overruled respondent's objection and empaneled the jury. On direct appeal, respondent renewed his Batson claim. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that the "state's explanation constituted a legitimate 'hunch'" and that "[t]he circumstances fail[ed] to raise the necessary inference of racial discrimination." State v. Elem, 747 S. W. 2d 772, 775 (Mo. App. 1988).

Respondent then filed a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U. S. C. § 2254, asserting this and other claims. Adopting the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation, the Dis-

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