On June 18, 2015, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Davis v. Ayala. The issue in this case was whether Ayala was entitled to federal habeas relief because the judge in his capital murder trial, when responding to Ayala’s objection that the prosecution used its peremptory challenges to strike potential jurors based on race, excluded Ayala from the hearing during which the judge considered the prosecution’s explanation for the peremptory challenges. The Ninth Circuit granted Ayala’s petition for habeas relief.
In an opinion delivered by Justice Alito, the Court reversed the Ninth Circuit by a vote of 5-4 and remanded the case. Any federal constitutional error that may have occurred as a result of the exclusion of Ayala from the hearing, the Supreme Court held, was harmless with respect to all seven prospective jurors who had been stricken.
Justice Alito’s opinion was joined by the Chief Justice and Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Kennedy. Justices Kennedy and Thomas filed concurring opinions. Justice Sotomayor filed a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg.
To discuss the case, we have Ronald Eisenberg, who heads the Law Division of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.