Castaneda v. Partida

Citation51 L.Ed.2d 498,97 S.Ct. 1272,430 U.S. 482
Decision Date23 March 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75-1552,75-1552
PartiesClaudio CASTANEDA, Sheriff, Petitioner, v. Rodrigo PARTIDA
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Under Texas' 'key man' system for selecting grand juries, jury commissioners are appointed by a state district judge to select prospective jurors from different portions of the county, after which the district judge proceeds to test their qualifications. A grand juror, in addition to being a citizen of the State and of the county in which he is to serve and a qualified voter in the county, must be 'of sound mind and good moral character,' be literate, have no prior felony conviction, and be under no pending indictment or other accusation. After respondent, a Mexican-American, had been convicted of a crime in a Texas District Court and had exhausted his state remedies on his claim of discrimination in the selection of the grand jury that had indicted him, he filed a habeas corpus petition in the Federal District Court, alleging a denial of due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, because of gross underrepresentation of Mexican-Americans on the county grand juries. On the basis of the evidence before it, the District Court concluded that respondent had made out a weak prima facie case of invidious discrimination, and, on balance, the court's doubts about the reliability of population and grand jury statistics offered by respondent from census and county records, coupled with its opinion that Mexican-Americans constituted a 'governing majority' in the county, caused it further to conclude that the prima facie case was rebutted by the State, and the petition was dismissed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the State had failed to rebut respondent's prima facie case. Held: Based on all the facts that bear on the grand jury discrimination issue, such as the statistical disparties (the county population was 79% Mexican-American, but, over an 11-year period, only 39% of those summoned for grand jury service were Mexican-American), the method of jury selection, and any other relevant testimony as to the manner in which the selection process was implemented, the proof offered by respondent was sufficient to demonstrate a prima facie case of intentional discrimination in grand jury selection, and the State failed to rebut such presumption by competent evidence. Pp. 492-501.

(a) None of the evidence in the record rebutted respondent's prima facie case. The State offered only the testimony of the State District Judge who had selected the jury commissioners, dealing principally with the selection of the commissioners and the instructions given them, and did not call the commissioners themselves to testify. Without evidence about the method by which the commissioners determined the other qualifications for grand jurors prior to the statutory time for testing qualifications, no inference explaining the disparity by reference to the literacy, sound mind, moral character, and criminal record qualifications can be drawn from the statistics about the population as a whole. Pp. 497-499.

(b) Nor did the District Court's 'governing majority' theory dispel the presumption of intentional discrimination. Because of the many facets of human motivation, it would be unwise to presume as a matter of law that human beings of one definable group will not discriminate against other members of their group. Furthermore, the relevance of a governing majority of elected officials to the grand jury selection process is questionable, and even if a 'governing majority' theory has general applicability in cases of this kind, the record in this case is inadequate to permit such an approach. Pp. 499-500.

524 F.2d 481, affirmed.

Thomas Parker Beery, McAllen, Tex., for petitioner.

David G. Hall, San Juan, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The sole issue presented in this case is whether the State of Texas, in the person of petitioner, the Sheriff of Hidalgo County, successfully rebutted respondent prisoner's prima facie showing of discrimination against Mexican-Americans in the state grand jury selection process. In his brief, petitioner, in claiming effective rebuttal, asserts:

'This list (of the grand jurors that indicted respondent) indicates that 50 percent of the names appearing thereon were Spanish. The record indicates that 3 of the 5 jury commissioners, 5 of the grand jurors who returned the indictment, 7 of the petit jurors, the judge presiding at the trial, and the Sheriff who served notice on the grand jurors to appear had Spanish surnames.' Brief for Petitioner 6.


This Court on prior occasions has considered the workings of the Texas system of grand jury selection. See Hernandez v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475, 74 S.Ct. 667, 98 L.Ed. 866 (1954); Cassell v. Texas, 339 U.S. 282, 70 S.Ct. 629, 94 L.Ed. 839 (1950); Akins v. Texas, 325 U.S. 398, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 89 L.Ed. 1692 (1945); Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400, 62 S.Ct. 1159, 86 L.Ed. 1559 (1942); Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 61 S.Ct. 164, 85 L.Ed. 84 (1940). Texas employs the 'key man' system, which relies on jury commissioners to select prospective grand jurors from the community at large.1 The procedure begins with the state district judge's appointment of from three to five persons to serve as jury commissioners. Tex.Code Crim.Proc., Art. 19.01 (1966).2 The commissioners then 'shall select not less than 15 nor more than 20 persons from the citizens of different portions of the county' to compose the list from which the actual grand jury will be drawn. Art. 19.06 (Supp.1976-1977).3 When at least 12 of the persons on the list appear in court pursuant to summons, the district judge proceeds to 'test their qualifications.' Art. 19.21. The qualifications themselves are set out in Art. 19.08: A grand juror must be a citizen of Texas and of the county, be a qualified voter in the county, be 'of sound mind and good moral character,' be literate, have no prior felony conviction, and be under no pending indictment 'or other legal accusation for theft or of any felony.' Interrogation under oath is the method specified for testing the prospective juror's qualifications. Art. 19.22. The precise questions to be asked are set out in Art. 19.23, which, for the most part, tracks the language of Art. 19.08. After the court finds 12 jurors who meet the statutory qualifications, they are impaneled as the grand jury. Art. 19.26.


Respondent, Rodrigo Partida, was indicted in March 1972 by the grand jury of the 92d District Court of Hidalgo County for the crime of burglary of a private residence at night with intent to rape. Hidalgo is one of the border counties of southern Texas. After a trial before a petit jury, respondent was convicted and sentenced to eight years in the custody of the Texas Department of Corrections. He first raised his claim of discrimination in the grand jury selection process on a motion for new trial in the State District Court.4 In sup- port of his motion, respondent testified about the general existence of discrimination against Mexican-Americans in that area of Texas and introduced statistics from the 1970 census and the Hidalgo County grand jury records. The census figures show that in 1970, the population of Hidalgo County was 181,535. United States Bureau of the Census, 1970 Census of Population, Characteristics of the Population, vol. 1, pt. 45, § 1, Table 119, p. 914. Persons of Spanish language or Spanish surname totaled 143,611. Ibid., and id., Table 129, p. 1092.5 On the assumption that all the persons of Spanish language or Spanish surname were Mexican-Americans, these figures show that 79.1% of the county's population was Mexican-American.6 Respondent's data compiled from the Hidalgo County grand jury records from 1962 to 1972 showed that over that period, the average percentage of Spanish-surnamed grand jurors was 39%.7 In the 2 1/2-year period during which the District Judge who impaneled the jury that indicted respondent was in charge, the average percentage was 45.5%. On the list from which the grand jury that indicted respondent was selected, 50% were Spanish surnamed. The last set of data that respondent introduced, again from the 1970 census, illustrated a number of ways in which Mexican-Americans tend to be underprivileged, including poverty-level incomes, less desirable jobs, substandard housing, and lower levels of education.8 The State offered no evidence at all either attacking respondent's allegations of discrimination or demonstrating that his statistics were unreliable in any way.

The State District Court, nevertheless, denied the motion for a new trial.

On appeal, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction. Partida v. State, 506 S.W.2d 209 (1974). Reaching the merits of the claim of grand jury discrimination, the court held that respondent had failed to make out a prima facie case. In the court's view, he should have shown how many of the females who served on the grand juries were Mexican-Americans married to men with Anglo-American surnames, how many Mexican-Americans were excused for reasons of age or health, or other legal reasons, and how many of those listed by the census would not have met the statutory qualifications of citizenship, literacy, sound mind, moral character, and lack of criminal record or accusation. Id., at 210-211. Quite beyond the uncertainties in the statistics, the court found it impossible to believe that discrimination could have been directed against a Mexican-American, in light of the many elective positions held by Mexican-Americans in the county and the substantial representation of Mexican-Americans on recent grand juries.9 Id., at 211. In essence, the court refused to presume that Mexican-Americans would discriminate against their own kind.

After exhausting his state remedies, respondent filed his petition for habeas corpus in the Federal District...

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