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United States v. Blouin

decided: December 23, 1981.


Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the District of Vermont (Albert W. Coffrin, Judge), convicting the defendant of bank robbery and conspiracy in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and 371. Judgment affirmed.

Before Newman and Kearse, Circuit Judges, and Daly,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Newman

This appeal concerns primarily the procedure for exercising peremptory challenges in selecting a jury to try a criminal case. Jacques Blouin appeals from a judgment of the District Court for the District of Vermont (Albert W. Coffrin, Judge) convicting him of bank robbery and conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2113(a) and 371. We conclude that the jury selection procedures did not deny Blouin any protected right and affirm his conviction.

Peremptory challenges are generally exercised under either of two basic approaches. Under what might be called the "jury box" system, twelve members of the array are selected by lot to enter the jury box; counsel for each side then exercise challenges for cause and their allotted number of peremptory challenges, in some prescribed pattern of alternation, against those seated in the jury box and against those drawn to replace any of the first twelve who have been challenged. When both sides have either used or waived their allotted challenges, the twelve members of the venire then in the jury box become the petit jury. Under the "struck jury" system, an initial panel is drawn by lot from those members of the array who have not been challenged and excused for cause; the size of this initial panel equals the total of the number of petit jurors who will hear the case (twelve in a federal criminal trial), plus the combined number of peremptories allowed to both sides (normally sixteen in federal felony trials, Fed.R.Crim.P. 24(b)). Counsel for each side then exercise their peremptory challenges, usually on an alternating basis, against the initial panel until they exhaust their allotted number and are left with a petit jury of twelve. Under either system, procedural details vary according to local practice.*fn1

The District of Vermont uses the "jury box" system. In Blouin's case, Judge Coffrin followed his usual procedure in felony cases. He divided the exercise of peremptory challenges into five rounds. The Government was allotted one of its six challenges in each of the first four rounds and two challenges in the fifth round. Blouin was allotted two of his ten challenges in each of the five rounds. The Government challenged first in rounds one, three, and five; the defendant challenged first in rounds two and four. Replacements for those challenged during a round were not selected until the completion of the round.

It is this last aspect of Judge Coffrin's procedure that Blouin challenges. In his case, the jury box contained twelve members of the array at the start of the fifth and final round. After the Government waived its last two challenges, Blouin exercised his ninth challenge. He then requested that a replacement be drawn before he was required to exercise his tenth and final challenge against one of the eleven persons remaining in the jury box. This request was denied. Blouin then exercised his last challenge, whereupon two members of the array were chosen to replace his ninth and tenth challenges and complete the jury of twelve. Blouin contends that he was unduly restricted in his exercise of his tenth peremptory challenge by not knowing, before he used that challenge, the identity of the member of the array who would replace his ninth challenge.

A criminal defendant's right to challenge some prospective jurors without cause is "one of the most important of the rights secured to the accused." Pointer v. United States, 151 U.S. 396, 408, 14 S. Ct. 410, 414, 38 L. Ed. 208 (1894). Although not a right protected directly by the Constitution, see Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202, 219, 85 S. Ct. 824, 835, 13 L. Ed. 2d 759 (1965); Stilson v. United States, 250 U.S. 583, 586, 40 S. Ct. 28, 29, 63 L. Ed. 1154 (1919), it nevertheless is considered essential to and inherent in the Anglo-American tradition of trial by jury, see Swain v. Alabama, supra, at 219-21, 85 S. Ct. at 835-836; Hayes v. Missouri, 120 U.S. 68, 70, 7 S. Ct. 350, 351, 30 L. Ed. 578 (1887); 4 W. Blackstone, Commentaries *353.

The general standard for measuring the acceptability of procedures through which peremptory challenges are exercised was articulated in Pointer v. United States, supra, at 408, 14 S. Ct. at 414. "Any system for the empanelling of a jury that (prevents) or embarrasses the full, unrestricted exercise by the accused of (his right to challenge peremptorily) must be condemned." Within those confines, however, trial courts retain a broad discretion to determine the way peremptory challenges will be exercised. See United States v. Turner, 558 F.2d 535, 538 (9th Cir. 1977); United States v. Keegan, 141 F.2d 248, 255 (2d Cir. 1944), rev'd on other grounds, 325 U.S. 478, 65 S. Ct. 1203, 89 L. Ed. 1745 (1945). In federal criminal trials, Rule 24(b) specifies the number of peremptories allotted to both the accused and the prosecution, but the rule prescribes no particular method for their use. Within the Second Circuit, both the "jury box" and the "struck jury" methods are used.*fn2

The goal of the "jury box" system is to fill the box with twelve acceptable jurors, and the system is indifferent whether the parties use all their challenges before acquiescing in a panel, or waive all challenges and accept the first twelve called. The goal of the "struck jury" is to whittle down an initially selected group of normally twenty-eight candidates (twelve jurors plus sixteen challenges) to twelve survivors, and it therefore builds in a preference for the parties' exercising all their allotted challenges.*fn3 This difference in procedure highlights the different outlooks of the two systems. The "jury box" system tends to focus the parties' attention on one member of the venire at a time, as he or she is seated in the box, and prompts the parties to ask, "Is this juror acceptable?" The "struck jury" system, by contrast, emphasizes the overall complexion of the panel and suggests the very different question, "Which twelve of these twenty-eight will be most favorable to my side?"

By permitting full comparative choice among a panel of twenty-eight prospective jurors, the "struck jury" system lets the parties make the most effective use of their challenges, in the sense that through their choices they are able to determine from the initial panel not only who will not serve but also who will serve as the petit jury. It is far from clear, however, that the right to challenge peremptorily should necessarily imply a right to shape a jury's profile to such an extent. The emphasis on selecting a panel rather than rejecting individuals might, for example, increase the opportunity to shape a jury along racial or other class lines. Cf. J. Van Dyke, Jury Selection Procedures 146-47, 152-60 (1977).

The "jury box" system does not afford the opportunity, or the danger, of full comparative choice, for the parties do not know ahead of time who the replacement for a challenged juror will be. While avoiding opportunity for an enhanced and perhaps undue impact upon the profile of the petit jury, this system has the inherent disadvantage that each side must accept at least one juror whom he has not had an opportunity to challenge. Whoever goes second in the final round will have used his last challenge before knowing the identity of the juror who replaces his final challenge. And if each side has only one challenge in the final round, the side going first in the final round will have used his last challenge before knowing the identities of both the juror who replaces his final challenge and the juror who replaces his adversary's final challenge.*fn4

We note these differences in operation and outcome of the two systems in order to emphasize that Blouin cannot succeed in his claim simply by showing that he could, under some procedure, have made more effective use of his peremptories. If that were the test, the "struck jury" system would be required, for it affords a more "effective" opportunity for the use of peremptories than the "jury box" system. The "struck jury" system, however, is not required. Indeed, on balance it is not necessarily preferable to the "jury box" system; it is merely different. To test Blouin's claim, we must apply standards developed within the context of the "jury box" system to see if the District Court's procedures "prevent(ed) or embarrasse(d) the full, unrestricted exercise" of Blouin's allotted peremptories.

Two prior decisions of this Court frame the context within which we consider Blouin's claim. In United States v. Keegan, supra, the defendants and the Government were each allotted one challenge in the last round, with the Government exercising the final challenge. The defendants unsuccessfully sought to withhold their last challenge until after the Government exercised its last challenge, so as to be able to consider the replacement juror as a target for their last challenge. This Court affirmed, concluding that defendants were "merely required to exercise their challenge at a particular time." Id. at 255. More recently, in Carr v. Watts, 597 F.2d 830 (2d Cir. 1979), the trial court in a civil case tried to a jury of six required both the plaintiff and the defendant to exercise all three of their challenges before replacements were drawn. The plaintiff, who challenged first, sought to withhold at least the last of his three allotted challenges until he saw the identity of the two members of the array chosen to replace the two persons he had already challenged. The trial court refused, and this Court reversed, without any mention of Keegan, even though the trial judge's procedure could have been viewed simply as a requirement of exercising challenges at a particular time.

Keegan can be read as assuring a litigant only the opportunity to use all of his allotted number of challenges. Carr makes clear, however, that in some circumstances the procedure by which that opportunity is made available can be unduly restrictive, even though the litigant is permitted to use all of his challenges. In Carr, because challenges were not exercised in rounds, the plaintiff was required to use all of his challenges before knowing the identity of half of the six eventual members of the petit jury-the replacements for the two he had challenged, plus the replacement for the one challenge subsequently exercised by the defendant.*fn5 Carr's lesson is that while the law does not guarantee the full comparative choice of the "struck jury" system, it does require that, when the "jury box" system is used, a litigant be given some ...

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