Akins v. State of Texas

Decision Date04 June 1945
Docket NumberNo. 853,853
Citation65 S.Ct. 1276,325 U.S. 398,89 L.Ed. 1692
PartiesAKINS v. STATE OF TEXAS
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

See 66 S.Ct. 86.

Messrs. A. S. Baskett and W. J. Durham, both of Dallas, Tex., for petitioner.

Mr. Benjamin T. Woodall, of Austin, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Justice REED delivered the opinion of the Court.

This certiorari brings here for review a judgment of the Criminal District Court of Dallas County, Texas, sentencing petitioner to execution on a jury verdict which found petitioner guilty of murder with malice and assessed the penalty at death.

Certiorari was sought to the Court of Criminal Appeals of the State of Texas, which had affirmed the judgment, on a petition which claimed discrimination on account of his race, against the petitioner, who is a Negro, under the equal protection and due process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.1 Certiorari was allowed because of the importance in the administration of criminal justice of the alleged racial discrimination which was relied upon to support the claim of violation of constitutional rights. 324 U.S. 836, 65 S.Ct. 865. This discrimination was said to consist of an arbitrary and purposeful limitation by the Grand Jury Commissioners of the number of Negroes to one who was to be placed upon the grand jury panel of sixteen for the term of court at which the indictment against petitioner was found. This is petitioner's only complaint as to racial discrimination. No other errors in the proceedings are pointed out.

The Fourteenth Amendment forbids any discrimination against a race in the selection of a grand jury.2 Neal v. State of Delaware, 103 U.S. 370, 394, 26 L.Ed. 567; Pierre v. State of Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354, 356, 59 S.Ct. 536, 537, 83 L.Ed. 757; Smith v. State of Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 61 S.Ct. 164, 85 L.Ed. 84; Hill v. State of Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 86 L.Ed. 1559. The burden is, of course, upon the defendant to establish the discrimination. Tarrance v. State of Florida, 188 U.S. 519, 520, 23 S.Ct. 402, 403, 47 L.Ed. 572; Martin v. State of Texas, 200 U.S. 316, 26 S.Ct. 338, 50 L.Ed. 497; Norris v. State of Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 590, 55 S.Ct. 579, 580, 79 L.Ed. 1074. An allegation of discriminatory practices in selecting a grand jury panel challenges an essential element of proper judicial procedure—the re- quirement of fairness on the part of the judicial arm of government in dealing with persons charged with criminal offenses. It cannot lightly be concluded that officers of the courts disregard this accepted standard of justice.

The order overruling the motion to quash the indictment was made after evidence and without opinion. That motion set out the alleged purposeful limitation on racial representation which is pressed here. The Court of Criminal Appeals, however, without a written analysis of the testimony, said in an opinion that it failed 'to find any evidence of discrimination. On the contrary, the evidence shows an effort on the part of the authorities to comply with the holding of this court and of the Supreme Court of the United States upon the question of discrimination.' Akins v. State, 182 S.W.2d 723, 724. This reference to the holdings of the state and federal courts was to Akens v. State, 145 Tex.Cr.R. 289, 167 S.W.2d 758, which reversed a previous conviction of petitioner on the authority of Hill v. Texas, supra. Although this opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals does not refer to proportional racial representation on juries, recent decisions of that court had previously disapproved that procedure. Hamilton v. State, 141 Tex.Cr.R. 114, 150 S.W.2d 395, loc.cit. 400; Hill v. State, 144 Tex.Cr.R. 415, 157 S.W.2d 369, loc.cit. 373, reversed on other grounds, 316 U.S. 400, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 86 L.Ed. 1559. We think, therefore, that the conclusions of the state courts show that in their judgment there was no proven racial discrimination by limitation in this case. Otherwise there would have been a reversal by the Court of Criminal Appeals.

As will presently appear, the transcript of the evidence presents certain inconsistencies and conflicts of testimony in regard to limiting the number of negroes on the grand jury. Th refore, the trier of fact who heard the witnesses in full and observed their demeanor on the stand has a better opportunity than a reviewing court to reach a correct conclusion as to the existence of that type of discrimination. While our duty, in reviewing a conviction upon a complaint that the procedure through which it was obtained violates due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, calls for our examination of evidence to determine for ourselves whether a federal constitutional right has been denied, expressly or in substance and effect, Norris v. State of Alabama, 294 U.S. 587, 589, 590, 55 S.Ct. 579, 580, 79 L.Ed. 1074; Smith v. State of Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84, we accord in that examination great respect to the conclusions of the state judiciary, Pierre v. State of Louisiana, 306, U.S. 354, 358, 59 S.Ct. 536, 538, 83 L.Ed. 757. That respect leads us to accept the conclusion of the trier on disputed issues 'unless it is so lacking in support in the evidence that to give it effect would work that fundamental unfairness which is at war with due process,' Lisenba v. State of California, 314 U.S. 219, 238, 62 S.Ct. 280, 291, 86 L.Ed. 166, or equal protection. Cf. Ashcraft v. State of Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 152, 153, 64 S.Ct. 921, 925, 88 L.Ed. 1192; Malinski v. New York, 324 U.S. 407, 65 S.Ct. 781, 783.

The regular statutory practice for the selection of grand jurors was followed in this case. Under the Texas statutes jury commissioners appointed by the judge of the trial court select a list of sixteen grandjurymen from which list twelve are chosen as a grand jury. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Articles 333, 337, Vernon's Ann. C.C.P arts. 333, 337. Qualifications for grandjurymen are set out in Article 339.3 The Commissioners are instructed by the court as to their duties. Art. 366. This method of selection leaves a wide range of choice to the commisioners. Its validity, however, has been accepted by this Court. Smith v. Texas, supra, 311 U.S. 128, 130, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84. Petitioner does not attack it now. Its alternative would be a list composed of all eligibles within the trial court's jurisdiction and selection of the panel by lot.

Petitioner's sole objection to the grand jury is that the 'commissioners deliberately, intentionally and purposely limited the number of the Negro race that should be selected on said grand jury panel to one member.' Fairness in selection has never been held to require proportional representation of races upon a jury. Commonwealth of Virginia v. Rives, 100 U.S. 313, 322, 323, 25 L.Ed. 667; Thomas v. State of Texas, 212 U.S. 278, 282, 29 S.Ct. 393, 394, 53 L.Ed. 512. Purposeful discrimination is not sustained by a showing that on a single grand jury the number of members of one race is less than that race's proportion of the eligible individuals. The number of our races and nationalities stands in the way of evolution of such a conception of due process or equal protection. Defendants under our criminal statutes are not entitled to demand representatives of their racial inheritance upon juries before whom they are tried. But such defendants are entitled to require that those who are trusted with jury selection shall not pursue a course of conduct which results in discrimination 'in the selection of jurors on racial grounds.' Hill v. Texas, supra, 316 U.S. 404, 62 S.Ct. 1161, 86 L.Ed. 1559. Our directions that indictments be quashed when Negroes, although numerous in the community, were excluded from grand jury lists have been based on the theory that their continual exclusion indicated discrimination and not on the theory that racial groups must be recognized. Norris v. Alabama, supra; Hill v. Texas, supra; Smith v. Texas, supra. The mere fact of inequality in the number selected does not in itself show discrimination. A purpose to discriminate must be present which may be proven by systematic exclusion of eligible jurymen of the proscribed race or by unequal application of the law to such an extent as to show intentional discrimination. Cf. Snowden v. Hughes, 321 U.S. 1, 8, 64 S.Ct. 397, 401, 88 L.Ed. 497. Any such discrimination which affects an accused will make his conviction unlawful.

The history and record of this case gives evidence that the courts of Texas which are charged with the trial of petitioner endeavored to comply with the federal constitutional requirements as to the selection of grand juries, according to the interpretation of this Court in Hill v. Texas, supra. Not only did the Court of Criminal Appeals reverse a former conviction of petitioner on its authority but the judge, now deceased, of the criminal district court of Dallas instructed the three jury commissioners, who selected this grand jury list, as testified to by each of them, that there should be no discrimination against anyone because of his color.4

Hill v. Texas, supra, was decided June 1, 1942. The trial court has four terms a year—January, April, July and October. After the Hill decision, the jury commissioners who were appointed at the July 1942 term to select grand jurors for the October 1942 term, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Arts. 333 and 338, placed a Negro on the grand jury list although he did not serve. Under the instructions of the judge as just detailed, the commissioners for the January 1943 term, at which petitioner was indicted, placed a Negro on the list and he served as a grand juror. Prior to the decision in the Hill case, it doe not appear that any colored person had ever served on a grand jury in Dallas County.

On the precise act of discrimination by the jury commissioners which is...

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