Thursday, July 9, 2009

Jury Verdict Overturned Based on Racially Motivated Use of Peremptory Challenges

In Sparks v. Allstate Construction, Inc. (3D08-2475), the Third DCA reversed a jury verdict in the defendants favor based upon racially motivated use of peremptory challenges.

The defendant alleged it was striking African American jurors on the basis of their employment -or prior employment. However, the Third DCA disagreed and stated: "This transcript demonstrates a systematic use of peremptories, followed by what seem to be quickly-contrived excuses for the strikes, in a manner calculated to exclude African Americans from serving on the jury. The only African American who was seated came up after the defense’s peremptories had been exhausted." [emphasis in original].

The court then stated "It is axiomatic that 'jurors and litigants have a right to jury selection procedures that are free from discrimination'.”
The attorney for the plaintiff timely objected on the basis that the peremptory challenges seemed to be motivated by race. The court held that the objections were not waived because the plaintiff never gave any indication it was accepting the jury. "Here, 'because of the specific objection communicated to the judge and the proximity of this objection to the swearing of the jury, there is no question that the judge understood and rejected [plaintiff’s] consistently maintained position that the judge had erred. It would have been futile for the lawyer to repeat what he had just told the judge'.”

"In this case, using 'reason and common sense,' Melbourne, 679 So. 2d at 765, the circumstances surrounding, and explanation for, the strikes seem palpably pretextual. Rodriguez v. State, 753 So. 2d 29, 40 (Fla. 2000). This is particularly true when all of the peremptory strikes are used against one distinct racial group, and a single member of that same group is only seated at a time when that party has exhausted its entire allowance of peremptories."


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