Aldridge v. United States, No. 683

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHUGHES
Citation75 L.Ed. 1054,73 A.L.R. 1203,51 S.Ct. 470,283 U.S. 308
Docket NumberNo. 683
Decision Date20 April 1931
PartiesALDRIDGE v. UNITED STATES

283 U.S. 308
51 S.Ct. 470
75 L.Ed. 1054
ALDRIDGE

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 683.
Argued March 16, 1931.
Decided April 20, 1931.

Page 309

Mr. James Francis Reilly, of Washington, D. C., for petitioner.

The Attorney General and Mr. Leo A. Rober, of Washington, D. C., for the United States.

Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner was convicted, in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia, of murder in the first degree, and was sentenced to death. The conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals, 47 F.(2d) 407. This Court granted a writ of certiorari, 282 U. S. 836, 51 S. Ct. 333, 75 L. Ed. —, limited to the question raised by the exception to the ruling of the trial court on the examination on voir dire of prospective jurors.

The petitioner is a negro, and the deceased was a white man, a member of the police force of the District. The record shows the following proceedings on the examination of jurors on the voir dire:

The court 'inquired if any of them knew the defendant, Alfred Scott Aldridge, or his counsel, or any of the witnesses whose names have been called. The court further inquired if any of the prospective jurors knew any of the facts in the case or if any of them ever remembered having read of it in the newspaper, or if they had any prejudice or bias against circumstantial evidence, or if any of the prospective jurors had any conscientious scruples against capital punishment. The court further inquired if any prospective juror had formed or exercised an opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the defendant, and further inquired whether any prospective juror was acquainted with any member of the Metropolitan Police Force of the District of Columbia, or more particularly those attached to the third precinct.

Page 310

'Whereupon, with the consent of the court, counsel for the parties hereto approached the bench and in a whispered tone, out of the hearing of the prospective jurors, the following took place:

'Mr. Reilly. At the last trial of this case I understand there was one woman on the jury who was a southerner, and who said that the fact that the defendant was a negro and the deceased a white man perhaps somewhat influenced her. I don't like to ask that question in public, but—

'The Court. I don't think that would be a proper question, any more than to ask whether they like an Irishman or a Scotchman.

'Mr. Reilly. But it was brought to our attention so prominently. It is a racial question—

'The Court. It was not this jury.

'Mr. Reilly. No. But it was a racial question, and the question came up—

'The Court. I don't think that is proper.

'Mr. Reilly. Might I, out of an abundance of caution, note an exception.

'The Court. Note an exception.

'Counsel for the defendant requested the court to allow the record to show that the question relative to racial prejudice be propounded to each and every prospective juror, with the exception heretofore noted on behalf of the defendant.'

In accordance with the existing practice, the questions to the prospective jurors were put by the court, and the court had a broad discretion as to the questions to be asked. The exercise of this discretion, and the restriction upon inquiries at the request of counsel, were subject to the essential demands of fairness. We find no reason to doubt the nature of the inquiry which the counsel for the accused desired. It was admitted at the bar of this Court that the members of the jury were white. In ask-

Page 311

ing that the question relative to 'racial prejudice' be put to the jurors, it is only reasonable to assume that counsel referred, not to immaterial matters, but to such a prejudice as would disqualify a juror because precluding an impartial verdict. The reference to what cousel had heard as to the attitude of a juror on the previous trial, where the jury had disagreed, indicated the purpose of the question, which was clear enough to invite appropriate action by the court. If the court had permitted the question, it doubtless would have been properly qualified. But the court, interrupting counsel, disposed of the inquiry summarily. The court failed to ask any question which could be deemed to cover the subject. If the defendant was entitled to have the jurors asked whether they had any racial prejudice, by reason of the fact that the defendant was a negro and the deceased a white man, which would prevent their giving a fair and impartial verdict, we cannot properly disregard the court's refusal merely because of the form in which the inquiry was presented.

The propriety of such an inquiry has been generally recognized. In Pinder v. State, 27 Fla. 370, 8 So. 837, 838, 26 Am. St. Rep. 75, the counsel for the accused sought to have the jurors asked on their voir dire: 'Could you give the defendant, who is a negro, as fair and impartial a trial as you could a white man, and give him the same advantage and protection as you would a white man upon the same evidence?' The Supreme Court of Florida held that the refusal of the court to allow the question was error and reversed the conviction.1 In Hill v. State, 112 Miss. 260, 72 So. 1003, the

Page 312

Supreme Court of Mississippi held that it was fatal error to refuse to permit a negro on trial for murder to put to prospective jurors on their voir dire the following question: 'Have you got any prejudice against the negro, as a negro, that would induce you to return a verdict on less or slighter evidence than you would return a verdict of guilty against a white man under the same circumstances?' The Supreme Court of North Carolina reversed the conviction of a negro because of the refusal of the trial judge to permit a juror to be asked if 'he believed he could, as a juror, do equal and impartial justice between the State and a colored man.' State v. McAfee, 64 N. C. 339.2 See, also,

Page 313

Fendrick v. State, 39 Tex. Cr. R. 147, 45 S. W. 589; State v. Sanders, 103 S. C. 216, 88 S. E. 10.

The right to examine jurors on the voir dire as to the existence of a disqualifying state of mind has been upheld with respect to other races than the black race, and in relation to religious and other prejudices of a serious character. Potter v. State, 86 Tex. Cr. R. 380, 384, 216 S. W. 886; People v. Reyes, 5 Cal. 347, 349; Watson v. Whitney, 23 Cal. 375, 379; People v. Car Soy, 57 Cal. 102; Horst v. Silverman, 20 Wash. 233, 234, 55 P. 52, 72 Am. St. Rep. 97. In People v. Reyes, supra, Mexicans were charged with assault with intent to commit murder, and conviction was reversed because of the refusal to allow questions to determine whether a prospective juror was a member of the Know Nothing party, and whether he had taken any oath or obligation which resulted in prejudice, or whether independent of such an oath he entertained a prejudice, which...

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370 practice notes
  • Tillman v. United States, No. 25381.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 10, 1969
    ...States, 9 Cir., 1965, 354 F.2d 4, 7. 10 See also United States v. Gillette, 2 Cir., 1967, 383 F.2d 843, 849; Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 310, 51 S.Ct. 470, 471, 75 L.Ed. 1054 (1931); United States v. Carabbia, 6 Cir., 1967, 381 F.2d 133, 136-137; Pinkney v. United States, 5 Cir......
  • McWhorter v. Dunn, Case No. 4:13-CV-02150-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 22, 2019
    ...the restriction upon inquiries at the request of counsel, [are] subject to the essential demands of fairness." Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 310, 51 S.Ct. 470, 471-472, 75 L.Ed. 1054 (1931).Id. at 729-30. In Morgan, the Court held that a capital defendant is entitled to ask prosp......
  • Rosales-Lopez v. United States, No. 79-6624
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 21, 1981
    ...the defendant and the victim are members of different Page 183 racial or ethnic groups. See Ristaino, supra; Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 51 S.Ct. 470, 75 L.Ed. 1054. Pp. 188-192. (b) In this case, there were no "special circumstances" of constitutional dimension requiring an in......
  • Pope v. United States, No. 18272.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • March 14, 1967
    ...We ourselves know of at least two Supreme Court cases where religious inquiry was recognized or approved: Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 313, 51 S.Ct. 470, 75 L.Ed. 1054 (1931); Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 309-311, 26 L.Ed. 481 But there can be no fixed rule as to all th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
369 cases
  • Tillman v. United States, No. 25381.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)
    • March 10, 1969
    ...States, 9 Cir., 1965, 354 F.2d 4, 7. 10 See also United States v. Gillette, 2 Cir., 1967, 383 F.2d 843, 849; Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 310, 51 S.Ct. 470, 471, 75 L.Ed. 1054 (1931); United States v. Carabbia, 6 Cir., 1967, 381 F.2d 133, 136-137; Pinkney v. United States, 5 Cir......
  • McWhorter v. Dunn, Case No. 4:13-CV-02150-RDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • January 22, 2019
    ...the restriction upon inquiries at the request of counsel, [are] subject to the essential demands of fairness." Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 310, 51 S.Ct. 470, 471-472, 75 L.Ed. 1054 (1931).Id. at 729-30. In Morgan, the Court held that a capital defendant is entitled to ask prosp......
  • Rosales-Lopez v. United States, No. 79-6624
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 21, 1981
    ...the defendant and the victim are members of different Page 183 racial or ethnic groups. See Ristaino, supra; Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 51 S.Ct. 470, 75 L.Ed. 1054. Pp. 188-192. (b) In this case, there were no "special circumstances" of constitutional dimension requiring an in......
  • Pope v. United States, No. 18272.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
    • March 14, 1967
    ...We ourselves know of at least two Supreme Court cases where religious inquiry was recognized or approved: Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 313, 51 S.Ct. 470, 75 L.Ed. 1054 (1931); Miles v. United States, 103 U.S. 304, 309-311, 26 L.Ed. 481 But there can be no fixed rule as to all th......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • RACE IN CONTRACT LAW.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 Nbr. 5, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...to turn his back on Houston, perhaps the country's most prominent African American lawyer at that time). (194) Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308, 316-18 (1931) (McReynolds, J., dissenting) (asserting that jury racism "in practice is not really important" compared to crime (1......
  • The Supreme Court as Protector of Civil Rights: Criminal Justice
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 275-1, May 1951
    • May 1, 1951
    ...J., must either disclose it or abandon the dissenting. prosecution.1°8 And the practice has de- 99 Aldridge v. United States, 283 U. S. 308 veloped of letting the trial judge look at (1931) ; Quercia v. United States, 289 U. S. 466 the material to determine whether its (1933). 100 Screws v.......

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