During jury selection in a Massachusetts criminal trial, both the prosecution and the defense are able to ask the court to strike potential jurors from the jury whom they do not believe could be fair. These strikes “for cause” are unlimited in number. However, both sides are also given a limited number of peremptory strikes, which can be used at the party’s discretion.
Decades ago, in a landmark case issued by the United States Supreme Court, the Court held that a criminal defendant has a constitutional right, under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, to ensure that members of his race are not excluded from the jury pool based solely on their race. Since then, Massachusetts criminal courts have implemented their own rules to deal with a prosecutor’s racially discriminatory use of their peremptory strikes during jury selection.
In a recent case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts discussed the analysis that must be conducted when a defendant raises this type of challenge. The facts of the case are not particularly relevant to the court’s discussion; however, the case involved an African-American man who was charged with homicide.