peremptory challenge | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Corrections

A peremptory challenge refers to the practice of a court granting each side in a civil or criminal trial the right to exclude a certain number of prospective jurors without cause or giving a reason.

See more generally voir dire

In the judicial system, peremptory challenges are a critical tool that both the prosecution and defense teams use to shape the jury that will ultimately decide the outcome of a trial. This practice is a fundamental aspect of the justice system and is meant to ensure that juries are impartial and unbiased.

Limits on Peremptory Challenges

A peremptory challenge allows a party in a civil or criminal trial to exclude a prospective juror from serving on the jury without giving a reason. The number of peremptory challenges allowed in a case can vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of case being tried. For example, in a federal criminal case, each side is usually given six peremptory challenges, while in a civil case, the number may be as few as three.

Peremptory Challenges vs. Challenge for Cause

Peremptory challenges are different from challenges for cause, which allow an attorney to exclude a prospective juror for a specific reason, such as a conflict of interest or a pre-existing relationship with one of the parties involved in the trial. Challenges for cause are unlimited, meaning that if an attorney believes that a prospective juror cannot be impartial, they can ask the judge to excuse that juror.

Criticisms of Peremptory Challenges

The use of peremptory challenges has been the subject of much debate and controversy. While the practice is intended to ensure an impartial jury, it can also be used to exclude jurors based on their race, gender, or other demographic characteristics. This practice is known as a peremptory strike and has been the subject of numerous legal challenges over the years.

The Batson Test

In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court established a test for determining when peremptory strikes are unconstitutional. The test, known as the Batson test, requires the party to use the peremptory strike to provide a race-neutral reason for the exclusion of a juror. If the opposing party believes that the strike was based on race, they can challenge the strike and ask the judge to review the reason given for the strike.

Despite the safeguards in place to prevent discrimination, the use of these challenges remains a controversial aspect of the legal system. Some argue that the practice can lead to the exclusion of qualified jurors based on their race or other demographic characteristics, while others argue that the practice is necessary to ensure an impartial jury.

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Last Modified: 07/12/2023

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