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
 
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Page 475

347 U.S. 475 (1954)

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

Hernandez

v.

Texas

No. 406

United States Supreme Court

May 3, 1954

Argued January 11, 1954

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF CRIMINAL APPEALS OF TEXAS

Syllabus

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

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do not support that view.4 And, except where the question presented involves the exclusion of persons of Mexican descent from juries,5 Texas courts have taken a broader view of the scope of the equal protection clause.6

Throughout our history, differences in race and color have defined easily identifiable groups which have at times required the aid of the courts in securing equal treatment under the laws. But community prejudices are not static, and, from time to time, other differences from the community norm may define other groups which need the same protection. Whether such a group exists within a community is a question of fact. When the existence of a distinct class is demonstrated, and it is further 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. The Fourteenth Amendment is not directed solely against discrimination due to a "two-class theory" -- that is, based upon differences between "white" and Negro.

As the petitioner acknowledges, the Texas system of selecting grand and petit jurors by the use of jury commissions is fair on its face and capable of [74 S.Ct. 671] being utilized

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without discrimination.7 But, as this Court has held, the system is susceptible to abuse, and can be employed in a discriminatory manner.8 The exclusion of otherwise eligible persons from jury service solely because of their ancestry or national origin is discrimination prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Texas statute makes no such discrimination, but the petitioner alleges that those administering the law do.

The petitioner's initial burden in substantiating his charge of group discrimination was to prove that persons of Mexican descent constitute a separate class in Jackson County, distinct from "whites."9 One method by which this may be demonstrated is by showing the attitude of the community. Here, the testimony of responsible officials and citizens contained the admission that residents of the community distinguished between "white" and "Mexican." The participation of persons of Mexican descent in business and community groups was shown to be slight. Until very recent times, children of Mexican descent were required to attend a segregated school for the first four grades.10 At least one restaurant in town prominently displayed a sign announcing "No Mexicans Served." On the courthouse grounds at the time of the

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hearing, there were two men's toilets, one unmarked, and the other marked "Colored Men" and "Hombres Aqui" ("Men Here"). No substantial evidence was offered to rebut the logical inference to be drawn from these facts, and it must be concluded that petitioner succeeded in his proof.

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