467 U.S. 1025 (1984), 83-95, Patton v. Yount

Docket Nº:No. 83-95
Citation:467 U.S. 1025, 104 S.Ct. 2885, 81 L.Ed.2d 847
Party Name:Patton v. Yount
Case Date:June 26, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 1025

467 U.S. 1025 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 2885, 81 L.Ed.2d 847

Patton

v.

Yount

No. 83-95

United States Supreme Court

June 26, 1984

Argued February 28, 1984

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

After a jury trial in a Pennsylvania state court in 1966, respondent was convicted of first-degree murder and rape, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, on direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the police had violated respondent's constitutional rights in securing confessions that had been admitted in evidence, and remanded the case for a new trial. Before and during an extensive voir dire examination of potential jurors at the second trial in 1970, respondent moved for a change of venue, arguing that publicity concerning the case had resulted in dissemination of prejudicial information that could not be eradicated from the potential jurors' minds. The trial court denied the motions, and respondent was convicted again of first-degree murder. He was resentenced to life imprisonment, and the trial court denied a motion for a new trial, finding that practically no publicity had been given to the case between the two trials, that little public interest was shown during the second trial, and that the jury was without bias. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the trial court's findings. Respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, claiming that his conviction had been obtained in violation of his right under [104 S.Ct. 2886] the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to a fair trial by an impartial jury. Upholding the state trial court's view that the jury was impartial, the District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed. Relying primarily on Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, the court found that pretrial publicity had made a fair trial impossible in the county.

Held:

1. The voir dire testimony and the record of publicity do not reveal the kind of "wave of public passion" that would have made a fair trial unlikely by the empaneled jury as a whole. Although Irvin v. Dowd, supra, held that adverse publicity can create such a presumption of prejudice in a community that the jurors' claims that they can be impartial should not be believed, it also recognized that the trial court's findings of impartiality may be overturned only for "manifest error." In this case, the extensive adverse publicity and the community's sense of outrage were at their height prior to respondent's first trial. The record shows that prejudicial publicity was greatly diminished and community sentiment

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ment had softened when the jury for the second trial was selected four years later. Thus the trial court did not commit manifest error in finding that the jury as a whole was impartial. Potential jurors who had retained fixed opinions as to respondent's guilt were disqualified, and the fact that the great majority of veniremen "remembered the case," without more, is essentially irrelevant. The relevant question is whether the jurors at respondent's second trial had such fixed opinions that they could not judge impartially respondent's guilt. The passage of time between the first and second trials clearly rebutted any presumption of partiality or prejudice that existed at the time of the initial trial. Pp. 1031-1035.

2. There is no merit in respondent's argument that one of the selected jurors, as well as the two alternates, had been erroneously seated over his challenges for cause. The ambiguity in the testimony of the cited jurors was insufficient to overcome the presumption of correctness, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), owed to the trial court's findings. The question of an individual juror's partiality is plainly one of historical fact, and there is fair support in the record for the state courts' conclusion that the jurors here would be impartial. Pp. 1036-1040.

710 F.2d 956, reversed.

POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 1040. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.

POWELL, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case brings before us a claim that pretrial publicity so infected a state criminal trial as to deny the defendant his Sixth Amendment right to an "impartial jury."

I

On April 28, 1966, the body of Pamela Rimer, an 18-year-old high school student, was found in a wooded area near her home in Luthersburg, Clearfield County, Pa. There were

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numerous wounds about her head and cuts on her throat and neck. An autopsy revealed that she died of strangulation when blood from her wounds was drawn into her lungs. The autopsy showed no indication that she had been sexually assaulted.

At about 5:45 the following morning, respondent Yount appeared at the State Police Substation in nearby DuBois. Yount, who had been the victim's high school mathematics teacher, proceeded to give the police oral and written confessions to the murder. The police refused to release the confession to the press, and it was not published until after it was read at Yount's arraignment three days later. Record, Ex. P-1-a, P-1-d. At his trial in 1966, the confessions were admitted into evidence. Yount took the stand and claimed temporary insanity. The jury convicted him of first-degree murder and rape, and he was [104 S.Ct. 2887] sentenced to life imprisonment. On direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that, under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), police had given Yount inadequate notice of his right to an attorney prior to his confession. The court remanded for a new trial. Commonwealth v. Yount, 435 Pa. 276, 256 A.2d 464 (1969), cert. denied, 397 U.S. 925 (1970).

Prior to the second trial in 1970, the trial court ordered suppression of Yount's written confessions and that portion of the oral confession that was obtained after he was legally in custody. The prosecution dismissed the rape charge. There followed an extensive voir dire that is now at the heart of this case. Jury selection began on November 4, 1970, and took 10 days, 7 jury panels, 292 veniremen, and 1,186 pages of testimony. Yount moved for a change of venue before, and several times during, the voir dire. He argued that the widespread dissemination of prejudicial information could not be eradicated from the minds of potential jurors, and cited in support the difficulty of the voir dire and numerous newspaper and other articles about the case. The motions were denied. The trial court noted that the articles merely reported

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events without editorial comment; that the length of the voir dire resulted in part from the court's leniency in allowing examinations and challenges of the jurors; that "almost all, if not all," the jurors seated had "no prior or present fixed opinion"; and that there had been "little, if any, talk in public" between the two trials. The court also observed that the voir dire of the second trial had been sparsely attended.

Ultimately, 12 jurors and 2 alternates were seated. At the second trial, Yount did not take the stand and did not claim temporary insanity. Instead he relied upon cross-examination and character witnesses in an attempt to undermine the State's proof of his intent. The jury convicted him again of first-degree murder, and he was resentenced to life imprisonment. The trial court denied a motion for a new trial, finding that practically no publicity had been given to the case between the two trials, and that little public interest was shown during the second trial. App. 268a. In addition, the court concluded that the jury was without bias. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the trial court's findings. Commonwealth v. Yount, 455 Pa. 303, 311-314, 314 A.2d 242, 247-248 (1974).

In January 1981, Yount filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in United States District Court. He claimed, inter alia, that his conviction had been obtained in violation of his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to a fair trial by an impartial jury. The case was assigned to a Magistrate, who conducted a hearing and recommended that the petition be granted. The District Court rejected the Magistrate's recommendation. 537 F.Supp. 873 (WD Pa.1982). It held that the pretrial publicity was not vicious, excessive, nor officially sponsored, and that the jurors were able to set aside any preconceived notions of guilt. It noted that the percentage of jurors excused for cause was "not remarkable to anyone familiar with the difficulty in selecting a homicide jury in Pennsylvania." Id. at 882. In addition, the court reviewed

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the instances in which the state trial court had denied a challenge for cause, and upheld the trial court's view that the jury was impartial.

The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed. 710 F.2d 956 (1983). The court relied primarily on the analysis set out in Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717 (1961), and found that pretrial publicity had made a fair trial impossible in Clearfield County. It independently examined the nature of the publicity surrounding the second trial, the testimony at voir dire of the venire as a whole, and the voir dire testimony of the jurors eventually seated. The publicity revealed Yount's prior conviction for murder, his confession, and his prior plea of temporary [104 S.Ct. 2888] insanity, information not admitted into evidence at trial.1 The voir dire showed that all but 2 of 163 veniremen questioned about the case2 had heard of it, and that, 126, or 77%, admitted they would carry an opinion into the jury box. This was a higher...

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