In Thaler v. Haynes, the United States Supreme Court recently reversed a decision from the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the “demeanor based” rejection of a potential juror. The case arose under a previous Supreme Court case, Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), in which the Court held that a party cannot strike a potential juror based solely on their race. Under Batson, a party must provide an alternate, race-neutral explanation for a strike that appears to be based on the juror’s race.
In Thaler, the prosecution stated that it had struck the juror because she did not appear to be serious during questioning, and her body language demonstrated her “true feelings” about the death penalty (which was an issue in the case). The trial court judge upheld the strike, but the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision because the trial court judge had not witnessed the potential juror’s behavior. The 5th Circuit overturned the trial court’s decision and ordered a new trial.
The Supreme Court reversed the 5th Circuit’s decision, concluding that the court had gone too far in requiring that the judge have actually observed the offending conduct to justify excluding the juror. The Supreme Court stated that while a judge’s observation of a juror’s demeanor is one factor to consider in whether a juror was properly excluded, it is not necessary that the judge have actually observed the behavior.