United States v. Martinez-Salazar, 528 U.S. 304 (2000)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the ninth circuit

No. 98-1255. Argued November 29, 1999—Decided January 19, 2000

Respondent Martinez-Salazar and a codefendant were charged with a variety of federal offenses. As the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure instruct, the District Court allotted them 10 peremptory challenges exercisable jointly in the selection of 12 jurors, Rule 24(b), and another such challenge exercisable in the selection of an alternate juror, Rule 24(c). Because prospective juror Don Gilbert indicated several times that he would favor the prosecution, the codefendants challenged him for cause, but the District Court declined to excuse him. After twice objecting, unsuccessfully, to the for-cause ruling, Martinez-Salazar used a peremptory challenge to remove Gilbert. The codefendants subsequently exhausted all of their peremptory challenges. At the close of jury selection, the District Court read the names of the jurors to be seated and asked if the prosecutor or defense counsel had any objections to any of those jurors. Martinez-Salazar's counsel responded: "None from us." At the conclusion of the trial, Martinez-Salazar was convicted on all counts. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit agreed with him (and the Government here does not contest) that the District Court's refusal to strike Gilbert for cause was an abuse of discretion. This error, the Ninth Circuit held, did not violate the Sixth Amendment, because Gil-bert was removed and the impartiality of the jury eventually seated was not challenged. But the Court of Appeals further concluded that the District Court's mistake resulted in a violation of Martinez-Salazar's Fifth Amendment due process rights because it forced him to use a peremptory challenge curatively, thereby impairing his right to the full complement of peremptory challenges to which federal law entitled him. Such an error, the Court of Appeals held, requires automatic reversal.

Held: A defendant's exercise of peremptory challenges pursuant to Rule

24 is not denied or impaired when the defendant chooses to use such a challenge to remove a juror who should have been excused for cause. Pp. 311-317.

(a) Although the peremptory challenge plays an important role in reinforcing a defendant's constitutional right to trial by an impartial jury, see, e. g., Swain v. Alabama, 380 U. S. 202, 212-213, 218-219, this Court has long recognized that such challenges are auxiliary; unlike the right to an impartial jury guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, peremptory

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