The Batson Challenge: Where Jury Selection Gets Heated; By Carly McGregor

The Batson Challenge is a voir dire technique that separates the good lawyers from those that are deemed to be elite. The Batson Challenge, also known as the Batson Objection, is an objection. One party argues that the other has used the peremptory challenge to strike one or more prospective jurors from the panel for a discriminatory purpose in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

The Batson Challenge was born in the case of “Batson v. Kentucky” (476 U.S. 79; 1986). It is a challenge that was initially applied to racial discrimination in jury selection but is now also used when gender or sometimes ethnic background is an issue. The party objecting usually must establish by evidence a prima facie case of discrimination. The other party must then prove a neutral reason for the strike. To learn more about the Batson Challenge, we spoke to several of the top lawyers in the State of Michigan.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and is known as one of the top research attorneys on the topic of jury selection.  McManus stated, “Jury selection is a topic that is highly overlooked in the criminal law sect. As many seasoned lawyers will tell you, the jury picks their team during voir dire. The Batson Challenge is utilized in different communities when a prosecutor is trying to stack the court in their favor.  Knowing how to utilize the challenge is essential to success.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and one of the top domestic relations attorneys in Michigan. Kelley has a long history of preparing Voir Dire questionnaires on capital criminal cases in the State of Michigan and provided insight when she said, “When you utilize a challenge, you need to be prepared for a strong attack from opposing counsel.  Prosecutors and judges will not take kindly to the challenge, and you have to substantiate the challenge or hurt your client. I’ve seen Bill (Amadeo) utilize far different strategies at the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice as opposed to the 22nd Circuit Court.”

Bill Amadeo is a Partner at McManus and Amadeo and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan. ( Amadeo is known as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Michigan and is a seasoned veteran of capital cases. Amadeo provided insight when he said, “Let’s be real; if anybody thinks that jury selection is not critical, they shouldn’t be doing jury trials. The Batson Challenge is when a prosecutor is trying to stack the deck in their favor. Much like real estate, location is critical. The Shiawassee jury pool is going to look far different than the Washtenaw selection. Most lawyers do not dare to make the Batson Challenge, and that’s sad when your client’s freedom is on the line. Criminal law is a street fight, and the Baton Challenge is a weapon to help you fight.  If you don’t dare to use it when appropriate, you should go practice insurance law.”

Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates and runs one of the top criminal defense firms in the state of Michigan and the federal court system. Grabel added, “Batson is a strategic challenge that can make the difference between one word or a two-word verdict. It is an essential tool that needs to be utilized more in our profession.”

While the Batson Challenge is not a widely known topic, it is a subject that deserves more recognition. Knowing how to utilize the challenge can add a layer to one’s defense, and the competent criminal lawyer needs to have the challenge in their back pocket ready to fire.

Carly McGregor has been a ghost writer for many years and is currently working on her Juris Doctorate and has published many articles across social media and print work.

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