347 U.S. 475 (1954), 406, Hernandez v. Texas

Docket Nº:No. 406
Citation:347 U.S. 475, 74 S.Ct. 667, 98 L.Ed. 866
Party Name:Hernandez v. Texas
Case Date:May 03, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 475

347 U.S. 475 (1954)

74 S.Ct. 667, 98 L.Ed. 866




No. 406

United States Supreme Court

May 3, 1954

Argued January 11, 1954



The systematic exclusion of persons of Mexican descent from service as jury commissioners, grand jurors, and petit jurors in the Texas county in which petitioner was indicted and tried for murder, although there were a substantial number of such persons in the county fully qualified to serve, deprived petitioner, a person of Mexican descent, of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and his conviction in a state court is reversed. Pp. 476-482.

(a) The constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws is not directed solely against discrimination between whites and Negroes. Pp. 477-478.

(b) When the existence of a distinct class is demonstrated, and it is shown that the laws, as written or as applied, single out that class for different treatment not based on some reasonable classification, the guarantees of the Constitution have been violated. P. 478.

(c) The exclusion of otherwise eligible persons from jury service solely because of their ancestry or national origin is discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 478-479.

(d) The evidence in this case was sufficient to prove that, in the county in question, persons of Mexican descent constitute a separate class, distinct from "whites." Pp. 479-480.

(e) A prima facie case of denial of the equal protection of the laws was established in this case by evidence that there were in the county a substantial number of persons of Mexican descent with the qualifications required for jury service, but that none of them had served on a jury commission, grand jury or petit jury for 25 years. Pp. 480-481.

(f) The testimony of five jury commissioners that they had not discriminated against persons of Mexican descent in selecting jurors, and that their only objective had been to select those whom they thought best qualified, was not enough to overcome petitioner's prima facie case of denial of the equal protection of the laws. Pp. 481-482.

(g) Petitioner had the constitutional right to be indicted and tried by juries from which all members of his class were not systematically excluded. P. 482.

___ Tex.Cr.R. ___, 251 S.W.2d 531, reversed.

Page 476

WARREN, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE WARREN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner, Pete Hernandez, was indicted for the murder of one Joe Espinosa by a grand jury in Jackson County, Texas. He was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. 251 S.W.2d 531. Prior to the trial, the petitioner, by his counsel, offered timely motions to quash the indictment and the jury panel. He alleged that persons of Mexican descent were systematically excluded from service as jury commissioners,1 grand jurors, and petit jurors, although there were such persons fully

Page 477

qualified to serve residing in Jackson County. The petitioner asserted that exclusion of this class deprived him, as a member of the class, of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. After a hearing, the trial court denied the motions. At the trial, the motions were [74 S.Ct. 670] renewed, further evidence taken, and the motions again denied. An allegation that the trial court erred in denying the motions was the sole basis of petitioner's appeal. In affirming the judgment of the trial court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals considered and passed upon the substantial federal question raised by the petitioner. We granted a writ of certiorari to review that decision. 346 U.S. 811.

In numerous decisions, this Court has held that it is a denial of the equal protection of the laws to try a defendant of a particular race or color under an indictment issued by a grand jury, or before a petit jury, from which all persons of his race or color have, solely because of that race or color, been excluded by the State, whether acting through its legislature, its courts, or its executive or administrative officers.2 Although the Court has had little occasion to rule on the question directly, it has been recognized since Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, that the exclusion of a class of persons from jury service on grounds other than race or color may also deprive a defendant who is a member of that class of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.3 The State of Texas would have us hold that there are only two classes -- white and Negro -- within the contemplation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decisions of this Court

Page 478

do not support that...

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