Davis v. Georgia

Decision Date06 December 1976
Docket NumberNo. 76-5403,76-5403
Citation429 U.S. 122,50 L.Ed.2d 339,97 S.Ct. 399
PartiesCurfew DAVIS v. State of GEORGIA
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

PER CURIAM.

The petitioner in this case was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after trial by a jury selected in violation of the standards enunciated in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968), and applied in Boulden v. Holman, 394 U.S. 478, 89 S.Ct. 1138, 22 L.Ed.2d 433 (1969), and Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 U.S. 262, 90 S.Ct. 1578, 26 L.Ed.2d 221 (1970). The Witherspoon case held that "a sentence of death cannot be carried out if the jury that imposed or recommended it was chosen by excluding veniremen for cause simply because they voiced general objections to the death penalty or expressed conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction." 391 U.S., at 522, 88 S.Ct., at 1777.

The Supreme Court of Georgia found that one prospective juror had been excluded in violation of the Witherspoon standard. The court nevertheless affirmed the conviction and death sentence, reasoning that the erroneous exclusion of one death-scrupled juror did not deny the petitioner a jury representing a cross section of the community since other jurors sharing that attitude were not excused for cause: "The rationale of Witherspoon and its progeny is not violated where merely one of a qualified class or group is excluded where it is shown, as here, that others of such group were qualified to serve. This record is completely void of any e- vidence of a systematic and intentional exclusion of a qualified group of jurors so as to deny the appellant a jury of veniremen representing a cross section of the community." 236 Ga. 804, 809-810, 225 S.E.2d 241, 244-245.

(1, 2) That, however, is not the test established in Witherspoon, and it is not the test that this Court has applied in subsequent cases where a death penalty was imposed after the improper exclusion of one member of the venire. See Wigglesworth v. Ohio, 403 U.S. 947, 91 S.Ct. 2284, 29 L.Ed.2d 857 (1971), rev'g 18 Ohio St.2d 171, 248 N.E.2d 607 (1969); Harris v. Texas, 403 U.S. 947, 91 S.Ct. 2291, 29 L.Ed.2d 859 (1971), rev'g 457 S.W.2d 903 (Ct.Crim.App.Tex.1970); Adams v. Washington, 403 U.S. 947, 91 S.Ct. 2273, 29 L.Ed.2d 855 (1971), rev'g 76 Wash.2d 650, 458 P.2d 558 (1969). Unless a venireman is "irrevocably committed, before the trial has begun, to vote against the penalty of death regardless of the facts and circumstances that might emerge in the course of the proceedings," 391 U.S. at 522 n. 21, 88 S.Ct. at 1777, he cannot be excluded; if a venireman is improperly excluded even though not so committed, any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand.

Accordingly, the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for certiorari are granted, the judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice BLACKMUN join, dissenting.

As is clear from the most cursory reading, Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968), does not inexorably lead to the result this Court now reaches. Indeed, much of the language in that opinion would support the reasoning, and the result, reached by the Supreme Court of Georgia. The extension of Witherspoon to cover the...

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