325 U.S. 398 (1945), 853, Akins v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 853
Citation:325 U.S. 398, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 89 L.Ed. 1692
Party Name:Akins v. Texas
Case Date:June 04, 1945
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 398

325 U.S. 398 (1945)

65 S.Ct. 1276, 89 L.Ed. 1692




No. 853

United States Supreme Court

June 4, 1945

Argued April 30, May 1, 1945



1. The manner in which the court which convicted the petitioner was organized -- assignment of a judge pursuant to a statute the validity of which under the state constitution was upheld by the highest court of the State -- violated no fundamental principle of justice and denied no right of the petitioner under the Federal Constitution. P. 399, n. 1.

2. Although there was but one Negro on the grand jury which indicted the Negro petitioner, the record in this case fails to establish that the jury commissioners deliberately and intentionally limited the number of Negroes on the panel, or that there was discrimination on account of race in the selection of the grand jury in violation of the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. Pp. 403, 407.

3. It is unnecessary here to consider whether purposeful limitation of jurors by race to the approximate proportion that the eligible jurymen of the race so limited bears to the total eligibles would be invalid under the Fourteenth Amendment. P. 407.

182 S.W.2d 723 affirmed.

Page 399

Certiorari, 324 U.S. 836, to review a judgment which affirmed a sentence of death upon a conviction of murder.

REED, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This certiorari brings here for review a judgment of the Criminal District Court of Dallas County, Texas, sentencing petitioner to execution on a jury verdict which found petitioner guilty of murder with malice and assessed the penalty at death.

Certiorari was sought to the Court of Criminal Appeals of the Texas, which had affirmed the judgment, on a petition which claimed discrimination on account of his race, against the petitioner, who is a Negro, under the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.1

Page 400

Certiorari was allowed because of the importance in the administration of criminal justice of the alleged racial discrimination which was relied upon to support the claim of violation of constitutional rights. 324 U.S. 836. This discrimination was said to consist of an arbitrary and purposeful limitation by the Grand Jury Commissioners of the number [65 S.Ct. 1278] of Negroes to one who was to be placed upon the grand jury panel of sixteen for the term of court at which the indictment against petitioner was found. This is petitioner's only complaint as to racial discrimination. No other errors in the proceedings are pointed out.

The Fourteenth Amendment forbids any discrimination against a race in the selection of a grand jury.2 Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370, 394; Pierre v. Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 356; Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128; Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400. The burden is, of course, upon the defendant to establish the discrimination. Tarrance v. Florida, 188 U.S. 519, 520; Martin v. Texas, 200 U.S. 316; Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 590. An allegation of discriminatory practices in selecting a grand jury panel challenges an essential element of proper judicial procedure -- the requirement

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of fairness on the part of the judicial arm of government in dealing with persons charged with criminal offenses. It cannot lightly be concluded that officers of the courts disregard this accepted standard of justice.

The order overruling the motion to quash the indictment was made after evidence and without opinion. That motion set out the alleged purposeful limitation on racial representation which is pressed here. The Court of Criminal Appeals, however, without a written analysis of the testimony, said in an opinion that it failed

to find any evidence of discrimination. On the contrary, the evidence shows an effort on the part of the authorities to comply with the holding of this court and of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the question of discrimination.

Akins v. State, 182 S.W.2d 723, 724. This reference to the holdings of the state and federal courts was to Akens v. State, 145 Tex.Cr.R. 289, 167 S.W.2d 758, which reversed a previous conviction of petitioner on the authority of Hill v. Texas, supra. Although this opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals does not refer to proportional racial representation on juries, recent decisions of that court had previously disapproved that procedure. Hamilton v. State, 141 Tex.Cr.R. 114, 150 S.W.2d 395, 400, r.c.; Hill v. State, 144 Tex.Cr.R. 415, 157 S.W.2d 369, 373, l.c., reversed on other grounds, 316 U.S. 400. We think, therefore, that the conclusions of the state courts show that, in their judgment, there was no proven racial discrimination by limitation in this case. Otherwise, there would have been a reversal by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

As will presently appear, the transcript of the evidence presents certain inconsistencies and conflicts of testimony in regard to limiting the number of negroes on the grand jury. Therefore, the trier of fact who heard the witnesses in full and observed their demeanor on the stand has a better opportunity than a reviewing court to reach a correct conclusion as to the existence of that type of discrimination. While our duty, in reviewing a conviction upon

Page 402

a complaint that the procedure through which it was obtained violates due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, calls for our examination of evidence to determine for ourselves whether a federal constitutional right has been denied, expressly or in substance and effect, Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 589-590; Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130, we accord in that examination great respect to the conclusions of the state judiciary, Pierre v. Louisiana, 306, U.S. 354, 358. That respect leads us to accept the conclusion of the trier on disputed issues "unless it is so lacking in support in the evidence that to give it effect would work that fundamental unfairness which is at war with due process," Lisenba v. California, 314 U.S. 219, 238, or equal protection. Cf. Ashcraft v. Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 152-153; Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 401.

[65 S.Ct. 1279] The regular statutory practice for the selection of grand jurors was followed in this case. Under the Texas statutes, jury commissioners appointed by the judge of the trial court select a list of sixteen grand jurymen, from which list twelve are chosen as a grand jury...

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