405 U.S. 625 (1972), 70-5026, Alexander v. Louisiana

Docket Nº:No. 70-5026
Citation:405 U.S. 625, 92 S.Ct. 1221, 31 L.Ed.2d 536
Party Name:Alexander v. Louisiana
Case Date:April 03, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 625

405 U.S. 625 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 1221, 31 L.Ed.2d 536




No. 70-5026

United States Supreme Court

April 3, 1972

Argued December 6-7, 1971



Petitioner, a Negro, attacks his rape conviction in Lafayette Parish, which was affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, contending that the grand jury selection procedures followed in his case were invidiously discriminatory against Negroes and, because of a statutory exemption provision, against women. The jury commissioners (all white) sent out questionnaires (including a space for racial designation) to those on a list compiled from nonracial sources. Of the 7,000-odd returns, 1,015 (14%) were from Negroes, though Negroes constituted 21% of the parish population presumptively eligible for grand jury service. By means of two culling-out procedures, when racial identifications that the commissioners had attached to the forms were plainly visible, the pool was reduced to 400, of whom 27 (7%) were Negro, from which group the 20-man grand jury venires were drawn. Petitioner's venire included one Negro (5%), and the grand jury that indicted him had none. There was no evidence of conscious [92 S.Ct. 1223] racial selection, and one commissioner testified that race was no consideration.


1. Petitioner made out a prima facie case of invidious racial discrimination in the selection of the grand jury that indicted him -- not only on a statistical basis but by a showing that the selection procedures were not racially neutral -- and the State, which did not adequately explain the disproportionately low number of Negroes throughout the selection process, did not meet the burden of rebutting the presumption of unconstitutionality in the procedures used. Cf. Avery v. Georgia, 345 U.S. 559; Whitus v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 545. Pp. 628-632.

2. Petitioner's contentions regarding discrimination against women in the selection of grand jurors are not reached. Pp. 633-634.

255 La. 941, 233 So.2d 891, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ, joined, and in Part I of which DOUGLAS, J., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 634. POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

After a jury trial in the District Court for the Fifteenth Judicial District of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana, petitioner, a Negro, was convicted of rape and sentenced to life imprisonment. His conviction was affirmed on appeal by the Louisiana Supreme Court,1 and this Court granted certiorari.2 Prior to trial, petitioner had moved to quash the indictment because (1) Negro citizens were included on the grand jury list and venire in only token numbers, and (2) female citizens were systematically excluded from the grand jury list, venire, and impaneled grand jury.3 Petitioner therefore argued that the indictment against him was invalid because it was returned by a grand jury impaneled from a venire made up contrary

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to the requirements of the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioner's motions were denied.

According to 1960 U.S. census figures admitted into evidence below, Lafayette Parish contained 44,986 persons over 21 years of age and therefore presumptively eligible for grand jury service;4 of this total, 9,473 persons (21.06%) were Negro.5 At the hearing on petitioner's motions to quash the indictment, the evidence revealed that the Lafayette Parish jury commission consisted of five members, all of whom were white, who had [92 S.Ct. 1224] been appointed by the court. The commission compiled a list of names from various sources (telephone directory, city directory, voter registration rolls, lists prepared by the school board, and by the jury commissioners themselves) and sent questionnaires to the persons on this list to determine those qualified for grand jury service. The questionnaire included a space to indicate the race of the recipient. Through this process, 7,374 questionnaires were returned, 1,015 of which (13.765) were from Negroes,6 and the jury commissioners attached to each

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questionnaire an information card designating, among other things, the race of the person, and a white slip indicating simply the name and address of the person. The commissioners then culled out about 5,000 questionnaires, ostensibly on the ground that these persons were not qualified for grand jury service or were exempted under state law. The remaining 2,000 sets of papers were placed on a table, and the papers of 400 persons were selected, purportedly at random, and placed in a box from which the grand jury panels of 20 for Lafayette Parish were drawn. Twenty-seven of the persons thus selected were Negro (6.75%).7 On petitioner' grand jury venire, one of the 20 persons drawn was Negro (5%), but none of the 12 persons on the grand jury that indicted him, drawn from this 20, was Negro.


For over 90 years, it has been established that a criminal conviction of a Negro cannot stand under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if it is based on an indictment of a grand jury from which Negroes were excluded by reason of their race. Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303 (1880); Neal v. Delaware, 103 U.S. 370 (1881). Although a defendant has no right to demand that members of his race be included on the grand jury that indicts him, Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313 (1880), he is entitled to require that the State not deliberately and systematically deny to members of his race the right to participate as jurors in the administration

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of justice.8 Ex parte Virginia, 100 U.S. 339 (1880); Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565 (1896). Cf. Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954). It is only the application of these settled principles that is at issue here.

This is not a case where it is claimed that there have been no Negroes called for service within the last 30 years, Patton v. Mississippi, 332 U.S. 463, 464 (1947); only one Negro chosen within the last 40 years, Pierre v. Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 359 (1939); or no Negroes selected "within the memory of witnesses who had lived [in the area] all their lives," Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 591 (1935). Rather, petitioner argues that, in his case, there has been a consistent process of progressive and disproportionate reduction of the number [92 S.Ct. 1225] of Negroes eligible to serve on the grand jury at each stage of the selection process until ultimately an all-white grand jury was selected to indict him.

In Lafayette Parish, 21% of the population was Negro and 21 or over, therefore presumptively eligible for grand jury service. Use of questionnaires by the jury commissioners created a pool of possible grand jurors which was 14% Negro, a reduction by one-third of possible black grand jurors. The commissioners then twice culled this group to create a list of 400 prospective jurors, 7% of whom were Negro -- a further reduction by one-half.

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The percentage dropped to 5% on petitioner's grand jury venire, and to zero on the grand jury that actually indicted him. Against this background, petitioner argues that the substantial disparity between the proportion of blacks chosen for jury duty and the proportion of blacks in the eligible population raises a strong inference that racial discrimination, and not chance, has produced this result, because elementary principles of probability make it extremely unlikely that a random selection process would, at each stage, have so consistently reduced the number of Negroes.9

This Court has never announced mathematical standards for the demonstration of "systematic" exclusion of blacks, but has, rather, emphasized that a factual inquiry is necessary in each case that takes into account all possible explanatory factors. The progressive decimation of potential Negro grand jurors is indeed striking here, but we do not rest our conclusion that petitioner has demonstrated a prima facie case of invidious racial discrimination on statistical improbability alone, for the selection procedures themselves were not racially neutral. The racial designation on both the questionnaire and the information card provided a clear and easy opportunity for racial discrimination. At two crucial steps in the selection process, when the number of returned questionnaires was reduced to 2,000 and when the final selection of the 400 names was made, these racial identifications were visible on the forms used by the jury commissioners, although there is no evidence that the commissioners consciously selected by race. The situation

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here is thus similar to Avery v. Georgia, 345 U.S. 559 (1953), where the Court sustained a challenge to an array of petit jurors in which the names of prospective jurors had been selected from segregated tax lists. Juror cards were prepared from these lists, yellow cards being used for Negro citizens and white cards for whites. Cards were drawn by a judge, and there was no evidence of specific discrimination. The Court held that such evidence was unnecessary, however, given the fact that no Negroes had appeared on the final jury: "Obviously that practice makes it easier for those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate." 345 U.S. at 562. Again, in Whitus v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 545 (1967), the Court reversed the conviction of a defendant who had been tried before an all-white petit jury. Jurors had been selected from a one-volume tax digest divided into separate sections of Negroes and whites; black taxpayers also had a "(c)" after their names, as...

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