476 U.S. 162 (1986), 84-1865, Lockhart v. McCree

Docket Nº:No. 84-1865
Citation:476 U.S. 162, 106 S.Ct. 1758, 90 L.Ed.2d 137, 54 U.S.L.W. 4449
Party Name:Lockhart v. McCree
Case Date:May 05, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 162

476 U.S. 162 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 1758, 90 L.Ed.2d 137, 54 U.S.L.W. 4449

Lockhart

v.

McCree

No. 84-1865

United States Supreme Court

May 5, 1986

Argued January 13, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

At respondent's Arkansas state court trial for capital felony murder, the judge at voir dire removed for cause, over respondent's objections, those prospective jurors who stated that they could not under any circumstances vote for the imposition of the death penalty -- that is, so-called "Witherspoon-excludables" under the principles of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510. The jury convicted respondent, but, at the sentencing phase of the trial, it rejected the State's request for the death penalty and set punishment at life imprisonment without parole. The conviction was affirmed on appeal, and respondent's petition for state postconviction relief was denied. He then sought federal habeas corpus relief, contending that the "death qualification" of the jury by the removal for cause of the "Witherspoon-excludables" violated his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to have his guilt or innocence determined by an impartial jury selected from a representative cross-section of the community. The District Court ruled that "death qualification" of the jury prior to the guilt phase of the bifurcated trial violated both the fair cross section and the impartiality requirements of the Constitution. The Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that removal for cause of "Witherspoon-excludables" violated respondent's Sixth Amendment right to a jury selected from a fair cross-section of the community.

Held: The Constitution does not prohibit the removal for cause, prior to the guilt phase of a bifurcated capital trial, of prospective jurors whose opposition to the death penalty is so strong that it would prevent or substantially impair the performance of their duties as jurors at the sentencing phase of the trial. This is so even assuming, arguendo, that the social science studies introduced in the courts below were adequate to establish that "death qualification" in fact produces juries somewhat more "conviction-prone" than "non-death-qualified" juries. Pp. 173-183.

(a) "Death qualification" of a jury does not violate the fair cross section requirement of the Sixth Amendment, which applies to jury panels or venires but does not require that petit juries actually chosen reflect the composition of the community at large. Even if the requirement were extended to petit juries, the essence of a fair cross section claim is the systematic exclusion of a "distinctive group" in [106 S.Ct. 1760] the community

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-- such as blacks, women, and Mexican-Americans -- for reasons completely unrelated to the ability of members of the group to serve as jurors in a particular case. Groups defined solely in terms of shared attitudes that would prevent or substantially impair members of the group from performing one of their duties as jurors, such as the "Witherspoon-excludables" at issue here, are not "distinctive groups" for fair cross section purposes. "Death qualification" is carefully designed to serve the State's legitimate interest in obtaining a single jury that can properly and impartially apply the law to the facts of the case at both the guilt and sentencing phases of a capital trial. Pp. 173-177.

(b) Nor does "death qualification" of a jury violate the constitutional right to an impartial jury on the theory asserted by respondent that, because all individual jurors are to some extent predisposed towards one result or another, a constitutionally impartial jury can be constructed only by "balancing" the various predispositions of the individual jurors, and when the State "tips the scales" by excluding prospective jurors with a particular viewpoint, an impermissibly partial jury results. An impartial jury consists of nothing more than jurors who will conscientiously apply the law and find the facts. Respondent's view of jury impartiality is both illogical and impractical. Neither Witherspoon, supra, nor Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38, supports respondent's contention that a State violates the Constitution whenever it "slants" the jury by excluding a group of individuals more likely than the population at large to favor the defendant. Here, the removal for cause of "Witherspoon-excludables" serves the State's entirely proper interest in obtaining a single jury (as required by Arkansas law) that could impartially decide all of the issues at both the guilt and the penalty phases of respondent's trial. Moreover, both Witherspoon and Adams dealt With the special context of capital sentencing, where the range of jury discretion necessarily gave rise to far greater concern over the effects of an "imbalanced" jury. The case at bar, by contrast, deals not with capital sentencing, but with the jury's more traditional role of finding the facts and determining the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant, where jury discretion is more channeled. Pp. 177-183.

758 F.2d 226, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., concurred in the result. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 184.

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REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case, we address the question left open by our decision nearly 18 years ago in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968): does the Constitution prohibit the removal for cause, prior to the guilt phase of a bifurcated capital trial, of prospective jurors whose opposition to the death penalty is so strong that it would prevent or substantially impair the performance of their duties as jurors at the sentencing phase of the trial? See id. at 520, n. 18; Bumper v. North Carolina, 391 U.S. 543, 545 (1968). We hold that it does not.

Respondent Ardia McCree filed a habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas claiming that such removal for cause violated the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments and, after McCree's case was consolidated with another habeas case involving the same claim on remand from the Court of [106 S.Ct. 1761] Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the District Court ruled in McCree's favor and granted habeas relief Grigsby v. Mabry, 569 F.Supp. 1273 (1983). A sharply divided Eighth Circuit affirmed, Grigsby v. Mabry, 758 F.2d 226 (1985) (en banc), creating a conflict with recent decisions of the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and Eleventh Circuits. See Keeten v. Garrison, 742 F.2d 129, 133-135 (CA4 1984), cert. pending, No. 84-6187; Smith v. Balkcom, 660 F.2d 573, 576-578 (CA5 1981), modified on other grounds, 671 F.2d 858, cert. denied sub nom. Tison v. Arizona, 459 U.S. 882 (1982); Spinkellink v. Wainwright, 578 F.2d 582, 594 (CA5 1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 976 (1979); United States ex rel. Clark v. Fike, 538 F.2d 750, 761-762 (CA7 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1064 (1977); and Corn v. Zant, 708 F.2d 549, 564 (CA11 1983), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1220 (1984). We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict, 474 U.S. 816 (1985), and now reverse the judgment of the Eighth Circuit.

On the morning of February 14, 1978, a combination gift shop and service station in Camden, Arkansas, was robbed,

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and Evelyn Boughton, the owner, was shot and killed. That afternoon, Ardia McCree was arrested in Hot Springs, Arkansas, after a police officer saw him driving a maroon and white Lincoln Continental matching an eyewitness' description of the getaway car used by Boughton's killer. The next evening, McCree admitted to police that he had been at Boughton's shop at the time of the murder. He claimed, however, that a tall black stranger wearing an overcoat first asked him for a ride, then took McCree's rifle out of the back of the car and used it to kill Boughton. McCree also claimed that, after the murder, the stranger rode with McCree to a nearby dirt road, got out of the car, and walked away with the rifle. McCree's story was contradicted by two eyewitnesses who saw McCree's car between the time of the murder and the time when McCree said the stranger got out and walked away, and who stated that they saw only one person in the car. The police found McCree's rifle and a bank bag from Boughton's shop alongside the dirt road. Based on ballistics tests, a Federal Bureau of Investigation officer testified that the bullet that killed Boughton had been fired from McCree's rifle.

McCree was charged with capital felony murder in violation of Ark.Stat.Ann. § 41-1501(1)(a) (1977). In accordance with Arkansas law, see Neal v. State, 259 Ark. 27, 31, 531 S.W.2d 17, 21 (1975), the trial judge at voir dire removed for cause, over McCree's objections, those prospective jurors who stated that they could not under any circumstances vote for the imposition of the death penalty. Eight prospective jurors were excluded for this reason. The jury convicted McCree of capital felony murder, but rejected the State's request for the death penalty, instead setting McCree's punishment at life imprisonment without parole. McCree's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal, McCree v. State, 266 Ark. 465, 585 S.W.2d 938 (1979), and his petition for state postconviction relief was denied.

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McCree then filed a federal habeas corpus petition raising, inter alia, the claim that "death qualification," or the removal for cause of the so-called "Witherspoon-excludable" prospective jurors,1 violated his right under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments [106 S.Ct. 1762] to have his guilt or innocence determined by an impartial jury selected from a representative cross-section of the community. By stipulation of the parties, this claim was consolidated with another pending...

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