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Johnson V. California: The Supreme Court Invades the States' Authority To Establish Criminal Procedures

NCJ Number
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 96 Issue: 3 Dated: Spring 2006 Pages: 995-1028
Jacob Smith
Date Published
34 pages
This article critiques the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Johnson v. California (2005), which holds that California's procedure for evaluating a defendant's objections to the prosecution's peremptory challenges in jury selection places too high a burden for the defendant to establish a prima facie case of racial discrimination.
At the time of this decision, California's criminal procedure required defendants to establish a prima facie case by a preponderance of the evidence that the peremptory challenges were impermissibly based on race. On appeal, the California Court of Appeals set aside the conviction, ruling that the trial judge had applied an overly burdensome standard to the defendant's objections. The State's appeal to the California Supreme Court resulted in a reinstatement of the defendant's conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court's hearing of the case resulted in a ruling that California's "more likely than not" standard is incompatible with the prima facie inquiry mandated in Batson v. Kentucky (1985). The Court's majority opinion focused on the first step in the three-step procedure established in "Batson." The first step requires that the defendant establish a prima facie case "by showing that the totality of the relevant facts gives rise to an inference of discriminatory purpose." The Supreme Court incorrectly held that California's standard failed to follow this step. The "Batson" decision did not establish a specific procedure that the States were constitutionally required to follow. Rather, the Court explicitly left the decision to the States to determine the best procedure for implementing the "Batson" ruling. Under "Batson," California had the power to create its own procedure for trial judges to use in evaluating a defendant's objection to a peremptory challenge on the ground of racial discrimination. The "Johnson" Court's ruling oversteps the Court's authority in allowing it to mandate State criminal procedures. 221 footnotes


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