In English and American law, the right of peremptory challenge is 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. A peremptory challenge also allows attorneys to veto a potential juror on a "hunch".
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.
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. While courts are not allowed to strike out entire groups of people from a particular jury, some would argue that peremptory challenges give individual parties this power (Yeazell 624). This reach of power has allowed, and still can allow, attorneys to simply strike out groups of people, even if just on a whim (e.g. all football fans may be struck from the jury). However, in the criminal case Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), it was held that the prosecution's actions of striking groups of people based on race violated parties' right to equal protection. This holding was further applied to civil cases in 1991 (Edmonson v. Leesville Concrete Co., 500 U.S. 614 (1991)). 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.
In the American legal system of the past, attorneys' power to exercise peremptory challenges was nearly unlimited; this fueled the controversy over whether this process tampered with the fairness of jury trial. In response, the American judicial system has begun to use restrictions. These restrictions have been put into place in different regions, some by statutes, some by common law (i.e. case decisions) (Yeazell 624).
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 super-majority (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 defense 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 super-majority threshold required.
This effect can be (and often is) partially mitigated by giving the defense more peremptory challenges than the prosecution (e.g. when indicted on a felony in the USA the defense 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.
The rules regarding peremptory challenges in Canada were laid out in §634 of the Criminal Code of Canada. The number of challenges awarded to each the prosecutor and the defense depended on the type of charge and maximum potential sentence. Twenty challenges were awarded in cases for high treason and first degree murder, twelve challenges for offenses with a maximum penalty greater than five years, and four challenges for jury eligible offenses with a penalty of five years or less; However, in cases where the judge orders that thirteen or fourteen jurors be sworn in as opposed to the usual twelve, both the prosecution and the defense received one additional challenge per additional juror seat.
§634 of the Criminal Code of Canada was repealed by Bill C-75 which came into effect on September 19, 2019, and peremptory challenges have been therefore eliminated.
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 was 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 are permitted in Hong Kong. Unlike England, no statutory change has been made to abolish the right. Each party of the defence is entitled to challenge up to a maximum of five jurors without providing cause.
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 with Scotland when peremptory challenge was finally abolished in 2007 (Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007, s.13)
All jurisdictions in the United States (including the Virgin Islands) 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 jurisdictions 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.)
- Yeazell, Stephen C. (2012). "The Trier and the Trial". Civil Procedure (8th ed.). New York: Wolters Kluwer Law & Business. p. 624.
- "Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c C-46, §634(2)". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
- "Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c C-46, §634(2.01)". Retrieved 28 March 2018.
- Barnett, Laura; Charron‑Tousignant, Maxime; Dupuis, Tanya (December 7, 2018). "Legislative Summary of Bill C‑75: An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts". Library of Parliament. Retrieved July 5, 2019.
- Criminal Justice Act 1988, s.118(1)
- Section 29, Jury Ordinance
- Section 20, Juries Act, 1976
- "§24, Challenges without cause -- Juries Act 1981 No 23 (reprint as of 1 July 2013)". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 18 August 2015.
- Juries (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, s.13-17
- Levine, Dan (June 24, 2013). "UPDATE 1-U.S. court refuses to undo gay rights ruling in pharma case". Reuters. Retrieved July 4, 2014.