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Peremptory challenge in law refers to a right in jury selection for the attorneys to reject a certain number of potential jurors without stating a reason. Other potential jurors may be challenged for cause, i.e., by giving a good reason why they might be unable to reach a fair verdict, but the challenge will be considered by the presiding judge and may be denied.
A peremptory challenge can be a major part of voir dire.
The idea behind peremptory challenges is that if both parties have contributed in the configuration of the jury, they will find its verdict more acceptable. The existence of peremptory challenges is argued to be an important safeguard in the judicial process, allowing both the defendant and the prosecution to get rid of potentially biased jurors. Their use allows attorneys to use their training and experience to dismiss jurors who might say the correct thing, but might otherwise harbor prejudices that could infringe the rights of the defendant to a fair trial.
A peremptory challenge also allows attorneys to veto a potential juror on a "hunch".
The use of peremptory challenges is controversial as some feel it has been used to undermine the balanced representation on a jury which would occur using random selection. Despite this, it still remains in use in several jurisdictions and in some cases leads to extensive and expensive jury research, aimed at producing a favorable jury.
A further criticism of this kind of Jury Selection is that it makes it easier to achieve a conviction, which critics argue leads to a higher chance of wrongful convictions. In most (if not all) jury systems a supermajority (or unanimity) is required to convict (e.g. in the UK over 83% of jurors are required for a conviction - a 10 to 2 majority can be accepted if a unanimous decision cannot be reached). If both sides are able to challenge jurors one would expect the prosecution to try to remove those with a general tendency to wish to acquit. Of course one would expect the defence to challenge those they think have a general tendency to convict but if both sides do their job equally well then the tendency will be to turn what would have been a small majority (one way or the other) into a strong majority in the same direction, potentially causing the proportion to rise over the supermajority threshold required.
This effect can be (and often is) partially mitigated by giving the defence more peremptory challenges than the prosecution (e.g. when indicted on a felony in the USA the defence gets 10 challenges to the prosecution’s 6).
Jurisdictions historically or currently using peremptory challenges
All Australian states allow for peremptory challenges in jury selection; however, the number of challenges granted to the counsels can vary between states.
Peremptory challenges were first used in England not many years after the assizes of Clarendon of 1166 allowed jury trials. When the concept was first introduced into the jury system, the maximum number of peremptory challenges allowed was thirty-five. As time went on, this number reduced, and by the year 1509 the maximum number of peremptory challenges was twenty. By 1977, the number of peremptory challenges granted to each side was reduced from seven to three. The right of peremptory challenge was abolished altogether by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which saw it as a derogation from the principle of random selection, and felt that its removal would increase the fairness of the jury system.
Peremptory challenges (referred to as "challenge without cause shown") are permitted in Ireland, with each side being allowed seven such challenges.
Each party is entitled to six peremptory challenges in New Zealand, and where there are two or more accused the prosecution is provided with a maximum of twelve.
Unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, peremptory challenge survived in Northern Ireland into the twenty-first century. The Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 entitled each party to a maximum of six peremptory challenges in civil cases. In criminal cases, each defendant was entitled to a maximum of twelve peremptory challenges; however, the prosecution could only allowed to challenge for cause. Northern Ireland was brought into line with England & Wales, and Scotland when peremptory challenge was finally abolished in 2007 (Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007, s.13)
All jurisdictions in the United States allow for peremptory challenges; the number depends on the jurisdiction and the type of case (i.e., more challenges may be permitted in a murder case than for DWI).
In the United States, the use of peremptory challenges by criminal prosecutors to remove persons from a cognizable group (i.e., of one race, ethnicity, or gender) based solely on that group characteristic has been ruled to be unconstitutional in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The term "Batson challenge" is used to refer to the act of arguing for the invalidity of a trial on the basis that peremptory challenges during jury selection resulted in the exclusion of a cognizable group.
Batson′s authority has also recently been reinforced in a pair of 2005 decisions, Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005), and Johnson v. California, 545 U.S. 162 (2005). Furthermore, in 2009 the United States Supreme Court found in a unanimous opinion in Rivera v. Illinois that "there is no freestanding constitutional right to peremptory challenges," even when a court was mistaken in applying Batson.
Some jurisctions have expanded the Batson rule to forbid the peremptory challenges based on gender, ethnicity, or religion.
Peremptory challenge of judge
Another form of the peremptory challenge (or peremptory disqualification), available in some jurisdictions, is the right to remove a judge assigned to hear the case without showing that the judge is actually biased or had a conflict of interest. While actual determination of a judge's bias is not required to employ the peremptory challenge, the moving party must still allege bias under oath. In jurisdictions that have this form of peremptory challenge, it generally may only be used once per party per case. (See, e.g., Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 170.6.)
- Criminal Justice Act 1988, s.118(1)
- Section 20, Juries Act, 1976
- Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, s.13-17
- Liptak, Paul (July 29, 2013). "Court to Decide if Lawyers Can Block Gays From Juries". New York Times. Retrieved July 30, 2013.