Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 11 (1995) (per curiam)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 765 (1995)

Stevens, J., dissenting

Today, without argument, the Court replaces the Batson standard with the surprising announcement that any neutral explanation, no matter how "implausible or fantastic," ante, at 768, even if it is "silly or superstitious," ibid., is sufficient to rebut a prima facie case of discrimination. A trial court must accept that neutral explanation unless a separate "step three" inquiry leads to the conclusion that the peremptory challenge was racially motivated. The Court does not attempt to explain why a statement that "the juror had a beard," or "the juror's last name began with the letter 'S' " should satisfy step two, though a statement that "I had a hunch" should not. See ante, at 769; Batson, 476 U. S., at 98. It is not too much to ask that a prosecutor's explanation for his strikes be race neutral, reasonably specific, and trial related. Nothing less will serve to rebut the inference of race-based discrimination that arises when the defendant has made out a prima facie case. Cf. Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine, 450 U. S. 248, 253 (1981). That, in any event, is what we decided in Batson.


The Court's peremptory disposition of this case overlooks a tricky procedural problem. Ordinarily, a federal appeals court reviewing a claim of Batson error in a habeas corpus proceeding must evaluate, with appropriate deference, the factual findings and legal conclusions of the state trial court. But in this case, the only finding the trial judge made was that the defendant had failed to establish a prima facie case. Everyone now agrees that finding was incorrect. The state trial judge, holding that the defendant had failed at step one,

265, 271 (Mo. App. 1987); Slappy v. State, 503 So. 2d 350, 355 (Fla. App. 1987); Walker v. State, 611 So. 2d 1133, 1142 (Ala. Crim. App. 1992); Huntley v. State, 627 So. 2d 1011, 1012 (Ala. Crim. App. 1991). This Court today calls into question the reasoning of all of these decisions without even the courtesy of briefing and argument.


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