Discriminatory Jury Selection – Guevara v. State

Although jurors and the parties to a case are entitled to a discrimination-free juror selection process in Florida, an attorney in some cases may believe that a particular group may be more sympathetic to the other side. When an attorney uses peremptory challenges to exclude jurors of a particular race, ethnicity, or gender, that attorney violates the Equal Protection Clause, improperly denies the jurors their right to serve as jurors, and denies the litigants their right to an impartial jury.

Initially, courts applied the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the use of peremptory challenges to exclude particular racial groups from juries. Florida extended the application of the Equal Protection Clause to prohibit the exclusion of jurors based on ethnicity in 1993 in State v. Alen. Alen involved Hispanic jurors, but Florida courts have since found against the use of peremptory challenges to exclude other ethnic groups. In 1994, the Florida Supreme Court held that the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution prohibits the use of peremptory challenges on the basis of gender in Abshire v. State, following the lead of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Second District recently applied that prohibition in Guevara v. State. The defendant was convicted of using a computer to seduce, solicit, lure, or entice a child to engage in unlawful sexual conduct and one count of traveling to meet a minor to engage in unlawful sexual conduct under Section 847.0135, Florida Statutes.

The defendant appealed on the basis of alleged errors during jury selection. During jury selection, the prosecution used peremptory challenges to strike two male jurors. The defendant made a timely objection to the challenges, but the prosecution argued that the males were not members of a protected class. The trial court did not follow the procedures for addressing an objection to a potentially discriminatory use of a peremptory challenge as set out in Florida case law.

Those procedures require the trial court to direct the party attempting to exercise the peremptory challenge to provide a non-discriminatory, in this case gender-neutral, reason for exercising the challenge. The trial court’s failure to conduct that inquiry after the defendant had objected and preserved the issue constituted reversible error. The appeals court reversed the judgments and sentences and remanded for a new trial.
In cases when the trial court does ask for a reason, the trial court’s determination as to whether a facially non-discriminatory reason is genuine or merely a pretext is given deference. It is, therefore, a fairly simple procedure for a trial court to ensure that the defendant’s and the jurors’ equal protection rights are not violated.

A non-discriminatory juror selection process is an important part of a fair trial for the defendant. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, the South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine can help you protect your rights. Call us at (800) 747-3733, or submit an on-line “Contact Us” form.

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