Georgia v. McCollum, 505 U.S. 42 (1992)

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certiorari to the supreme court of georgia

No. 91-372. Argued February 26, 1992—Decided June 18, 1992

Respondents, who are white, were charged with assaulting two African-Americans. Before jury selection began, the trial judge denied the prosecution's motion to prohibit respondents from exercising peremptory challenges in a racially discriminatory manner. The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed, distinguishing Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U. S. 614—in which this Court held that private litigants cannot exercise peremptory strikes in a racially discriminatory manner—on the ground that it involved civil litigants rather than criminal defendants.

Held: The Constitution prohibits a criminal defendant from engaging in purposeful discrimination on the ground of race in the exercise of peremptory challenges. Pp. 46-59. (a) The exercise of racially discriminatory peremptory challenges offends the Equal Protection Clause when the offending challenges are made by the State, Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U. S. 79; Powers v. Ohio, 499 U. S. 400, and, in civil cases, when they are made by private litigants, Edmonson, supra. Whether the prohibition should be extended to discriminatory challenges made by a criminal defendant turns upon the following four-factor analysis. Pp. 46-48. (b) A criminal defendant's racially discriminatory exercise of peremptory challenges inflicts the harms addressed by Batson. Regardless of whether it is the State or the defense who invokes them, discriminatory challenges harm the individual juror by subjecting him to open and public racial discrimination and harm the community by undermining public confidence in this country's system of justice. Pp. 48-50. (c) A criminal defendant's exercise of peremptory challenges constitutes state action for purposes of the Equal Protection Clause under the analytical framework summarized in Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U. S. 922. Respondents' argument that the adversarial relationship between the defendant and the prosecution negates a peremptory challenge's governmental character is rejected. Unlike other actions taken in support of a defendant's defense, the exercise of a peremptory challenge determines the composition of a governmental body. The fact that a defendant exercises a peremptory challenge to further his interest in acquittal does not conflict with a finding of state action, since

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