Groppi v. Wisconsin, No. 26

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtSTEWART
Citation27 L.Ed.2d 571,91 S.Ct. 490,400 U.S. 505
PartiesJames Edmund GROPPI, Appellant, v. State of WISCONSIN
Docket NumberNo. 26
Decision Date25 January 1971

400 U.S. 505
91 S.Ct. 490
27 L.Ed.2d 571
James Edmund GROPPI, Appellant,

v.

State of WISCONSIN.

No. 26.
Argued Dec. 7, 1970.
Decided Jan. 25, 1971.

Syllabus

State law that categorically prevents a change of venue for a jury trial in a criminal case, regardless of the extent of local prejudice against the defendant, solely on the ground that the crime with which he is charged is a misdemeanor held violative of the right to trial by an impartial jury guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 507—512.

41 Wis.2d 312, 164 N.W.2d 266, vacated and remanded.

Elizabeth B. DuBois, New York City, for appellant.

Sverre O. Tinglum, Madison, Wis., for appellee.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On August 31, 1967, during a period of civil disturbances in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the appellant, a Romain Catholic priest, was arrested in that city on a charge of resisting arrest. Under Wisconsin law that offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or imprisonment in the county jail for not more than

Page 506

one year, or both.1 After a series of continuances, the appellant was brought to trial before a jury in a Milwaukee County court on February 8, 1968. The first morning of the trial was occupied with qualifying the jurors, during the course of which t he appellant exhausted all of his peremptory challenges.2 The trial then proceeded, and at its conclusion the jury convicted the appellant as charged.

Prior to the trial, counsel for the appellant filed a motion for a change of venue from Milwaukee County 'to a county where community prejudice against this defendant does not exist and where an impartial jury trial can be had.' The motion asked the court to take judicial notice of 'the massive coverage by all news media in this community of the activities of this defendant,' or, in the alternative, that 'the defendant be permitted to offer proof of the nature and extent thereof, its effect upon this community and on the right of defendant to an impartial jury trial.' The trial judge denied the motion, making clear that his ruling was based exclusively on his view that Wisconsin law did not permit a change of venue in misdemeanor cases.3

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin affirmed the conviction. 41 Wis.2d 312, 164 N.W.2d 266. It

Page 507

held that the trial judge had been correct in his understanding that a Wisconsin statute foreclosed the possibility of a change of venue in a misdemeanor prosecution.4 It further held that this state law was constitutionally valid, pointing out that 'it would be extremely unusual for a community as a whole to prejudge the guilt of any person charged with a misdemeanor.' 41 Wis.2d, at 317, 164 N.W.2d, at 268. The court also noted that a defendant in a Wisconsin misdemeanor prosecution has a right to ask for continuances and to challenge prospective jurors on voir dire, and if 'these measures are still not sufficient to provide an impartial jury, the verdict can be set aside after trial based on the denial of a fair and impartial trial.' 41 Wis.2d, at 321, 164 N.W.2d, at 270. Two members of the court dissented, believing that the state statute did not absolutely forbid a change of venue in a misdemeanor prosecution, and that if the statute did contain such a prohibition it was constitutionally invalid. 41 Wis.2d, at 325, 164 N.W.2d, at 272.

This appeal followed, and we noted probable jurisdiction. 398 U.S. 957, 90 S.Ct. 2163, 26 L.Ed.2d 541. As the case reaches us we must, of course, accept the construction that the Supreme Court of Wisconsin has put upon the state statute. E.g., Kingsley International Pictures Corp. v. Regents of University, 360 U.S. 684, 688, 79 S.Ct. 1362, 1365, 3 L.Ed.2d 1512. The question before us, therefore, goes to the constitu-

Page 508

tionality of a state law that categorically prevents a change of venue for a criminal jury trial, regardless of the extent of local prejudice against the defendant, on the sole ground that the charge against him is labeled a misdemeanor.5 We hold that this question was answered correctly by the dissenting justices in the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.6

The issue in this case is not whether the Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to accord a jury trial to a defendant on a charge such as the appellant faced here.7 The issue concerns, rather, the nature of the jury trial that the Fourteenth Amendment commands, when trial by jury is what the State has purported to accord.8 We had occasion to consider this precise question almost 10 years ago in Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 81 S.Ct. 1639, 6 L.Ed.2d 751. There we found that an Indiana conviction could not constitutionally stand because the jury had been infected by com-

Page 509

munity prejudice before the trial had commenced. What the Court said in that case is wholly relevant here:

'In essence, the right to jury trial guarantees to the criminally accused a fair trial by a panel of impartial, 'indifferent' jurors. The failure to accord an accused a fair hearing violates even the minimal standards of due process. In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257, 68 S.Ct. 499, 92 L.Ed. 682; Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 47 S.Ct. 437, 71 L.Ed. 749. 'A fair trial in a fair tribunal is a basic requirement of due process.' In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 136, 75 S.Ct. 623, 625, 99 L.Ed. 942. In the ultimate analysis, only the jury can strip a man of his liberty or his life. In the language of Lord Coke, a juror must be as 'indifferent as he stands unsworne.' Co.Litt. 155b. His verdict must be based upon the evidence developed at the trial. Cf. Thompson v. City of Louisville, 362 U.S. 199, 80 S.Ct. 624, 4 L.Ed.2d 654. This is true, regardless of the heinousness of the crime charged, the apparent guilt of the offender or the station in life which he occupies. It was so written into our law as early as 1807 by Chief Justice Marshall in 1 Burr's Trial 416 * * *.' 366 U.S., at 722, 81 S.Ct., at 1642.

There are many ways to try to assure the kind of impartial jury that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees.9 In Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 16 L.Ed.2d 600, the Court enumerated many of the procedures available, particularly in the context of a jury threatened by the poisonous influence of prejudicial publicity during the course of the trial itself. 384 U.S., at 357—363, 86 S.Ct., at 1519—1522. Here we are concerned with the methods available to assure an impartial jury in a situation where, because of prejudicial publicity

Page 510

or for some other reason, the community from which the jury is to be drawn may already by permeated with hostility toward the defendant. The problem is an ancient one. Mr. Justice Holmes stated no more than a commonplace when, two generations ago, he noted that '(a)ny judge who has sat with juries knows that, in spite of forms, they are extremely likely to be impregnated by the environing atmosphere.' Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 349, 35 S.Ct. 582, 595, 59 L.Ed. 969 (dissenting opinion).

One way to try to meet the problem is to grant a continuance of the trial in the hope that in the course of time the fires of prejudice will cool. But this hope may not be realized, and continuances, particularly if they are repeated, work against the important values implicit in the constitutional guarantee of a speedy trial.10 Another way is to provide a method of jury qualification that will promote, through the exercise of challenges to the venire—preemptory and for cause—the exclusion of prospective jurors infected with the prejudice of the community from which they come. But this protection, as Irvin v. Dowd, supra, shows, is not always adequate to effectuate the constitutional guarantee.11

On at least one occasion this Court has explicitly held that only a change of venue was constitutionally sufficient to assure the kind of impartial jury that is guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. That was in the case of Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 10 L.Ed.2d 663. We held that 'it was a denial of due process of law to refuse the request for a change of venue, after the people of Calcasieu Parish had been exposed repeatedly and in depth' to the preju-

Page 511

dicial pretrial publicity there involved. 373 U.S., at 726, 83 S.Ct., at 1419. Rideau was not decided until 1963, but its message echoes more than 200 years of human experience in the endless quest for the fair administration of criminal justice.12

It is doubtless true, as the Supreme Court of Wisconsin said, that community prejudice is not often aroused against a man accused only of a misdemeanor. But under the Constitution a defendant must be given an opportunity to show that a change of venue is required in his case. The Wisconsin statute wholly denied that opportunity to the appellant.

Page 512

Accordingly, the judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion. 13

It is so ordered.

Vacated and remanded.

Mr. Justice BLACKMUN, whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, concurring.

Although I agree in large part with the reasoning of Mr. Justice...

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147 practice notes
  • People v. Sirhan, Cr. 14026
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 16, 1972
    ...of the circumstances.' (Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 362, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 1522, 16 L.Ed.2d 600; see also Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400 U.S. 505, 508, [7 Cal.3d 731] 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571; Maine v. Superior Court, 68 Cal.2d 375, 382, 384--385, 66 Cal.Rptr. 724, 438 P.2d 372.) In most ......
  • State v. Kinder, No. 75082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • December 17, 1996
    ...1081 (1991). A change of venue is required when it is necessary to assure the defendant a fair and impartial trial. Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400 U.S. 505, 507-11, 91 S.Ct. 490, 491-94, 27 L.Ed.2d 571 (1971). A trial court abuses its discretion when the record shows that the inhabitants of the c......
  • People v. Beames, No. S050455.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 22, 2007
    ...we do not hold the mere availability of jury voir dire is sufficient to deprive a defendant of that right. (Cf. Groppi v. Wisconsin (1971) 400 U.S. 505, 511, 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571 [finding unconstitutional a state law that categorically prevented a change of venue for misdemeanor jur......
  • Hankla v. Municipal Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 26, 1972
    ...court on November 18, 1971, or by the superior court's refusal on January 26, 1972 to disturb that ruling. (See Groppi v. Wisconsin (1971) 400 U.S. 505, 507--508, 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571. Cf. People v. Miller (1969) 71 Cal.2d 459, 471--474, 78 Cal.Rptr. 449, 455 P.2d 377; People v. O'B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
147 cases
  • People v. Sirhan, Cr. 14026
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 16, 1972
    ...of the circumstances.' (Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 362, 86 S.Ct. 1507, 1522, 16 L.Ed.2d 600; see also Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400 U.S. 505, 508, [7 Cal.3d 731] 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571; Maine v. Superior Court, 68 Cal.2d 375, 382, 384--385, 66 Cal.Rptr. 724, 438 P.2d 372.) In most ......
  • State v. Kinder, No. 75082
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • December 17, 1996
    ...1081 (1991). A change of venue is required when it is necessary to assure the defendant a fair and impartial trial. Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400 U.S. 505, 507-11, 91 S.Ct. 490, 491-94, 27 L.Ed.2d 571 (1971). A trial court abuses its discretion when the record shows that the inhabitants of the c......
  • People v. Beames, No. S050455.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • March 22, 2007
    ...we do not hold the mere availability of jury voir dire is sufficient to deprive a defendant of that right. (Cf. Groppi v. Wisconsin (1971) 400 U.S. 505, 511, 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571 [finding unconstitutional a state law that categorically prevented a change of venue for misdemeanor jur......
  • Hankla v. Municipal Court
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • June 26, 1972
    ...court on November 18, 1971, or by the superior court's refusal on January 26, 1972 to disturb that ruling. (See Groppi v. Wisconsin (1971) 400 U.S. 505, 507--508, 91 S.Ct. 490, 27 L.Ed.2d 571. Cf. People v. Miller (1969) 71 Cal.2d 459, 471--474, 78 Cal.Rptr. 449, 455 P.2d 377; People v. O'B......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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