A defendant in a Washington criminal case is entitled to a fair and impartial jury pursuant to both the state and federal constitutions. Washington court rules allow parties to strike some prospective jurors without a stated reason through peremptory challenges. A party may not, however, strike a prospective juror for a discriminatory reason. U.S. Supreme Court case law has developed a framework for analyzing whether there has been improper “purposeful discrimination” in the use of a peremptory challenge. This analysis, however, does not protect the defendant from the potential of unconscious bias in the selection of the jury.
Washington adopted a rule to address this issue. General Rule 37 permits a party or even the court itself to object to a peremptory challenge to raise the issue of improper bias. The party who made the challenge must then articulate their reasons for using the challenge. The court then must determine if an objective observer could see race or ethnicity as a factor, considering the totality of the circumstances. If so, the court should deny the peremptory challenge.
A defendant recently appealed his conviction after the trial court allowed the prosecution to strike a juror over the defendant’s objection. According to the appeals court’s opinion, the defendant was charged with first degree kidnapping and second degree assault of his long-term girlfriend, with four firearm enhancements.