391 U.S. 543 (1968), 1016, Bumper v. North Carolina

Docket Nº:No. 1016
Citation:391 U.S. 543, 88 S.Ct. 1788, 20 L.Ed.2d 797
Party Name:Bumper v. North Carolina
Case Date:June 03, 1968
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 543

391 U.S. 543 (1968)

88 S.Ct. 1788, 20 L.Ed.2d 797

Bumper

v.

North Carolina

No. 1016

United States Supreme Court

June 3, 1968

Argued April 24-25, 1968

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NORTH CAROLINA

Syllabus

Petitioner was tried for rape in North Carolina, an offense punishable by death unless the jury recommends life imprisonment. The prosecution was permitted to challenge for cause all prospective jurors who stated that they were opposed to capital punishment or had conscientious scruples against imposing the death penalty. A rifle which was introduced at the trial was obtained by a search of petitioner's grandmother's house, where he resided. Four officers appeared at the home, announced that they had a warrant to search it, and were told by the owner to "[g]o ahead." At the hearing on a motion to suppress, which was denied, the prosecutor stated that he did not rely on a warrant to justify the search, but on consent. The jury found petitioner guilty, but recommended life imprisonment, and the State Supreme Court affirmed.

Held:

1. Petitioner has adduced no evidence to support his claim that a jury from which those who are opposed to capital punishment or have conscientious scruples against imposing the death penalty are excluded for cause is necessarily "prosecution prone," warranting reversal of his conviction for denial of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to an impartial jury. Witherspoon v. Illinois, ante, p. 510. P. 545.

2. A search cannot be justified as lawful on the basis of consent when that "consent" has been given only after the official conducting the search has asserted that he possesses a warrant; there is no consent under such circumstances. Pp. 546-550.

3. Because the rifle, which was erroneously admitted into evidence, was plainly damaging against petitioner, its admission was not harmless error. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18. P. 550.

270 N.C. 521, 155 S.E.2d 173, reversed and remanded.

Page 544

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was brought to trial in a North Carolina court upon a charge of rape, an offense punishable in that State by death unless the jury recommends life imprisonment.1 Among the items of evidence introduced by the prosecution at the trial was a .22-caliber rifle allegedly used in the commission of the crime. The jury found the petitioner guilty, but recommended a sentence of life imprisonment.2 The trial court-imposed that sentence, and the Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed the judgment.3 We granted certiorari4 to consider two separate constitutional claims pressed unsuccessfully by the petitioner throughout the litigation in the North Carolina courts. First, the petitioner argues that his constitutional right to an impartial jury was violated in this capital case when the prosecution was permitted to challenge for cause all prospective jurors who stated that they were opposed to capital punishment or had conscientious

Page 545

scruples against imposing the death penalty. Secondly, the petitioner contends that the .22-caliber [88 S.Ct. 1790] rifle introduced in evidence against him was obtained by the State in a search and seizure violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

I

In Witherspoon v. Illinois, ante, p. 510, we have held that a death sentence cannot constitutionally be executed if imposed by a jury from which have been excluded for cause those who, without more, are opposed to capital punishment or have conscientious scruples against imposing the death penalty. Our decision in Witherspoon does not govern the present case, because here, the jury recommended a sentence of life imprisonment. The petitioner argues, however, that a jury qualified under such standards must necessarily be biased as well with respect to a defendant's guilt, and that his conviction must accordingly be reversed because of the denial of his right under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to trial by an impartial jury. Duncan v. Louisiana, ante, p. 145; Turner v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 471-473; Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 722-723. We cannot accept that contention in the present case. The petitioner adduced no evidence to support the claim that a jury selected as this one was is necessarily "prosecution prone,"5 and the materials referred to in his brief are no more substantial than those brought to our attention in Witherspoon.6 Accordingly, we decline to reverse the judgment of conviction upon this basis.

Page 546

II

The petitioner lived with his grandmother, Mrs. Hattie Leath, a 66-year-old Negro widow, in a house located in a rural area at the end of an isolated mile-long dirt road. Two days after the alleged offense, but prior to the petitioner's arrest, four white law enforcement officers -- the county sheriff, two of his deputies, and a state investigator -- went to this house and found Mrs. Leath there with some young children. She met the officers at the front door. One of them announced, "I have a search warrant to search your house." Mrs. Leath responded, "Go ahead," and opened the door. In the kitchen the officers found the rifle that was later introduced in evidence at the petitioner's trial after a motion to suppress had been denied.

At the hearing on this motion, the prosecutor informed the court that he did not rely upon a warrant to justify the search, but upon the consent of Mrs. Leath.7 She testified at the hearing, stating, among other things:

Four of them came. I was busy about my work, and they walked into the house and one of them walked up and said, "I have a search warrant to search your house," and I walked out and told them to come on in. . . . He just come on in and [88 S.Ct. 1791] said he had a warrant to search the house, and he didn't

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read it to me or nothing. So, I just told him to come on in and go ahead and search, and I went on about my work. I wasn't concerned what he was about. I was just satisfied. He just told me he had a search warrant, but he didn't read it to me. He did tell me he had a search warrant.

* * * *

. . . He said he was the law and had a search warrant to search the house, why I thought he could go ahead. I believed he had a search warrant. I took him at his word. . . . I just seen them out there in the yard. They got through the door when I opened it. At that time, I did not know my grandson had been charged with crime. Nobody told me anything. They didn't tell me anything, just picked it up like that. They didn't tell me nothing about my grandson.8

Upon the basis of Mrs. Leath's testimony, the trial court found that she had given her consent to the search, and

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denied the motion to suppress.9 The Supreme Court of North Carolina approved the admission of the evidence on the same basis.10

The issue thus presented is whether a search can be justified as lawful on the basis of consent when that "consent" has been given only after the official conducting the search has asserted that he possesses a warrant.11 We hold that there can be no consent under such circumstances.

[88 S.Ct. 1792] When a prosecutor seeks to rely upon consent to justify the lawfulness of a search, he has the burden of proving that the consent was, in fact, freely and voluntarily given.12 This burden cannot be discharged by

Page 549

showing no more than acquiescence to a claim of lawful authority.13 A search conducted in reliance upon a warrant cannot later be justified on the basis of consent if it turns out that the warrant was invalid.14 The result can be no different when it turns out that the State does not even attempt to rely upon the validity of the warrant,

Page 550

or fails to show that there was, in fact, any warrant at all.15

When a law enforcement officer claims authority to search a home under a warrant, he announces in effect that the occupant has no right to resist the search. The situation is instinct with coercion -- albeit colorably lawful coercion. Where there is coercion, there cannot be consent.

We hold that Mrs. Leath did not consent to the search, and that it was constitutional error to admit the rifle in evidence against the petitioner. Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643. Because the rifle was plainly damaging evidence against the petitioner with respect to all three of the charges against him, its admission at the trial was not harmless error. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18.16

Page 551

[88 S.Ct. 1793] The judgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina is, accordingly, reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS joins Part II of the opinion of the Court. Since, however, the record shows that 16 of 53 prospective jurors were excused for cause because of their opposition to capital punishment, he would also reverse on the ground that petitioner was denied the right to trial on the issue of guilt by a jury representing a fair cross-section of the community. Witherspoon v. Illinois, ante at 523 (separate opinion). Under North Carolina law, rape is punishable by death unless the jury recommends life imprisonment. N.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-21 (1953). But an indictment for rape includes the lesser offense of an assault with intent to commit rape, and the court has the duty to submit to the jury the lesser degrees of the offense of rape which are supported by the evidence. State v. Green, 246 N.C. 717, 100 S.E.2d 52 (1957). See N.C.Gen.Stat. §§ 15-169, 15-170 (1953). These include assault with intent to commit rape, for which the range of punishment is one to 15 years' imprisonment (N.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-22), and assault (N.C.Gen.Stat. § 14-33). In the instant case, the trial judge did...

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