OCTOBER TERM, 1994
on petition for writ of certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit
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 race-neutral 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.
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