Rideau v. State of Louisiana

Citation83 S.Ct. 1417,373 U.S. 723,10 L.Ed.2d 663
Decision Date03 June 1963
Docket NumberNo. 630,630
PartiesWilbert RIDEAU, Petitioner, v. STATE OF LOUISIANA
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Fred H. Sievert, Jr., Lake Charles, La., for petitioner.

Frank T. Salter, Jr., Lake Charles, La., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

On the evening of February 16, 1961, a man robbed a bank in Lake Charles, Louisiana, kidnapped three of the bank's employees, and killed one of them A few hours later the petitioner, Wilbert Rideau, was apprehended by the police and lodged in the Calcasieu Parish jail in Lake Charles. The next morning a moving picture film with a sound track was made of an 'interview' in the jail between Rideau and the Sheriff of Calcasieu Parish. This 'interview' lasted approximately 20 minutes. It consisted of interrogation by the sheriff and admissions by Rideau that he had perpetrated the bank robbery, kidnapping, and murder. Later the same day the filmed 'interview' was broadcast over a television station in Lake Charles, and some 24,000 people in the community saw and heard it on television. The sound film was again shown on television the next day to an estimated audience of 53,000 people. The following day the film was again broadcast by the same television station, and this time approximately 20,000 people saw and heard the 'interview' on their television sets. Calcasieu Parish has a population of approximately 150,000 people.

Some two weeks later, Rideau was arraigned on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, and murder, and two lawyers were appointed to represent him. His lawyers promptly filed a motion for a change of venue, on the ground that it would deprive Rideau of rights guaranteed to him by the United States Constitution to force him to trial in Calcasieu Parish after the three television broadcasts there of his 'interview' with the sheriff.1 After a hearing, the motion for change of venue was denied, and Rideau was accordingly convicted and sentenced to death on the murder charge in the Calcasieu Parish trial court.

Three members of the jury which convicted him had stated on voir dire that they had seen and heard Rideau's televised 'interview' with the sheriff on at least one occasion. Two members of the jury were deputy sheriffs of Calcasieu Parish. Rideau's counsel had requested that these jurors be excused for cause, having exhausted all of their peremptory challenges, but these challenges for cause had been denied by the trial judge. The judgment of conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, 242 La. 431, 137 So.2d 283, and the case is here on a writ of certiorari, 371 U.S. 919, 83 S.Ct. 294, 9 L.Ed.2d 229.

The record in this case contains as an exhibit the sound film which was broadcast. What the people of Calcasieu Parish saw on their television sets was Rideau, in jail, flanked by the sheriff and two state troopers, admitting in detail the commission of the robbery, kidnapping, and murder, in response to leading questions by the sheriff.2 The record fails to show whose idea it was to make the sound film, and broadcast it over the local television station, but we know from the conceded circumstances that the plan was carried out with the active cooperation and participation of the local law enforcement officers. And certainly no one has suggested that it was Rideau's idea, or even that he was aware of what was going on when the sound film was being made.

In the view we take of this case, the question of who originally initiated the idea of the televised interview is, in any event, a basically irrelevant detail. For we hold 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 spectacle of Rideau personally confessing in detail to the crimes with which he was later to be charged. For anyone who has ever watched television the conclusion cannot be avoided that this spectacle, to the tens of thousands of people who saw and heard it, in a very real sense was Rideau's trial—at which he pleaded guilty to murder. Any subsequent court proceedings in a community so pervasively exposed to such a spectacle could be but a hollow formality.

In Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 56 S.Ct. 461, 80 L.Ed. 682, this Court set aside murder convictions secured in a state trial with all the formalities of fair procedures, based upon 'free and voluntary confessions' which in fact had been preceded by grossly brutal kangaroo court proceedings while the defendants were held in jail without counsel. As Chief Justice Hughes wrote in that case, 'The state is free to regulate the procedure of its courts in accordance with its own conceptions of policy * * *. (But) it does not follow that it may substitute trial by ordeal.' 297 U.S., at 285, 56 S.Ct., at 464. Cf. White v. Texas, 310 U.S. 530, 60 S.Ct. 1032, 84 L.Ed. 1342. That was almost a generation ago, in an era before the onrush of an electronic age.

The case now before us does not involve physical brutality. The kangaroo court proceedings in this case involved a more subtle but no less real deprivation of due process of law. Under our Constitution's guarantee of due process, a person accused of committing a crime is vouchsafed basic minimal rights. Among these are the right to counsel,3 the right to plead not guilty, and the right to be tried in a courtroom presided over by a judge. Yet in this case the people of Calcasieu Parish saw and heard, not once but three times, a 'trial' of Rideau in a jail, presided over by a sheriff, where there was no lawyer to advise Rideau of his right to stand mute.

The record shows that such a thing as this never took place before in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana.4 Whether it has occurred elsewhere, we do not know. But we do not hesitate to hold, without pausing to examine a particularized transcript of the voir dire examination of the members of the jury, that due process of law in this case required a trial before a jury drawn from a community of people who had not seen and heard Rideau's televised 'interview.' 'Due process of law, preserved for all by our Constitution, commands that no such practice as that disclosed by this record shall send any accused to his death.' Chambers v. Florida, 309 U.S. 227, 241, 60 S.Ct. 472, 479, 84 L.Ed. 716.


Mr. Justice CLARK, with whom Mr. Justice HARLAN joins, dissenting.

On the evening of February 16, 1961, the petitioner, Wilbert Rideau, was arrested and confined in the Calcasieu Parish jail in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The arrest arose out of a bank robbery and a subsequent kidnapping and homicide. On the night of his arrest petitioner made detailed oral and written confessions to the crimes, and on the following morning a sound film was made of an interview between the sheriff and petitioner in which he again admitted commission of the crimes. The film was broadcast on a local television station on February 17, 18, and 19, 1961.

On March 3, 1961, petitioner was arraigned on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping and murder. As required under the law of Louisiana, he pleaded not guilty to the two capital crimes, but he entered a plea of guilty to the charge of armed robbery. Counsel were appointed immediately, and they requested permission to withdraw the plea of guilty to armed robbery, which motion was granted. They then filed a motion to quash, and the State was required to elect under which count it wished to proceed. The State elected the murder count, and the trial was set for April 10, 1961.

The defense moved for a change of venue, which was denied after hearing. Thereupon a jury was empaneled and petitioner was tried and convicted of murder. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed and this Court now reverses that judgment, holding that the denial of petitioner's motion for change of venue was a deprivation of due process of law. Having searched the Court's opinion and the record, I am unable to find any deprivation of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and I therefore dissent.

At the outset, two matters should be clearly established. First, I do not believe it within the province of law enforcement officers actively to cooperate in activities which tend to make more difficult the achievement of impartial justice. Therefore, if this case arose in a federal court, over which we exercise supervisory powers, I would vote to reverse the judgment before us. Cf. Marshall v United States, 360 U.S. 310, 79 S.Ct. 1171, 3 L.Ed.2d 1250 (1959). It goes without saying, however, that there is a very significant difference between matters within the scope of our supervisory power and matters which reach the level of constitutional dimension. See, e.g., Stein v. People of State of New York, 346 U.S. 156, 187, 73 S.Ct. 1077, 1094, 97 L.Ed. 1522 (1953); Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 476, 73 S.Ct. 397, 417, 97 L.Ed. 469 (1953).

Second, I agree fully with the Court that one is deprived of due process of law when he is tried in an environment so permeated with hostility that judicial proceedings can be 'but a hollow formality.' This proposition, and my position with regard thereto, are established in Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 81 S.Ct. 1639, 6 L.Ed.2d 751 (1961). At this point I must part company with the Court, however, not so much because it deviates from the principles established in Irvin but because it applies no principles at all. It simply stops at this point, without establishing any substantial nexus between the televised 'interview' and petitioner's trial, which occurred almost two months later. Unless the adverse publicity is shown by the record to have fatally infected the trial, there is simply no basis for the Court's inference that the publicity, epitomized by the televised interview, called up some informal and illicit analogy to res judicata, making petitioner's trial a meaningless formality. See Beck v. Washington, 369...

To continue reading

Request your trial
1067 cases
  • State v. Miller
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 10, 1987
    ...prejudice was presumed. Id., 686-89, 419 A.2d 866, see Sheppard v. Maxwell, supra; Estes v. Texas, supra; Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 10 L.Ed.2d 663 (1963). Unlike those cases discussed in Piskorski, the record in this case fails to indicate that either the nature or t......
  • People v. Sirhan
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • June 16, 1972
    ... ... 152, 493 P.2d 880, holds that the death penalty violates our state constitutional provision against cruel or unusual punishment (Cal.Const., art. I, § 6). The ... Louisiana, 379 U.S. 466, 473, 85 S.Ct. 546, 13 L.Ed.2d 424 (probability of prejudice from key prosecution nesses also serving as jury shepherds during trial); Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 726, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 1419, 10 L.Ed.2d 663 (probability of prejudice from ... ...
  • State v. Piskorski
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • June 19, 1979
    ...in the circumstances under which the trials were held in Sheppard v. Maxwell, supra; Estes v. Texas, supra; and Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 83 S.Ct. 1417, 10 L.Ed.2d 663. Sheppard involved "a trial infected not only by a background of extremely inflammatory publicity but also by a co......
  • Jones v. Chatman
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of Georgia
    • September 30, 2019
    ...however, this Court remains unconvinced that Petitioner has established that he is entitled to a presumption of prejudice. In Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 724, 83 S Ct. 1417, 1418, 10 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1963), the Supreme Court of the United States found that a defendant was entitled to a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 books & journal articles
  • Why Batson Misses the Point
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review No. 97-5, July 2012
    • July 1, 2012
    ...unfit. Because I believe the peremptory remains an important litigator’s tool and a fundamental part of the 90. See Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723, 733 (1963) (“[I]t is an impossible standard to require that tribunal to be a laboratory, completely sterilized and freed from any external f......
  • Motion practice
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Criminal Defense Tools and Techniques
    • March 30, 2017
    ...to a fair and impartial trial. Sheppard v. Maxwell , 384 U.S. 333, 363 (1966); Irvin v. Dowd , 366 U.S. 717 (1961); Rideau v. Louisiana , 373 U.S. 723, (1963); Rule 21(a), Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure The standard for change of venue in a federal prosecution under Rule 21(a) assures ......
  • Populism, free speech, and the rule of law: the "fully informed" jury movement and its implications.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 88 No. 1, September 1997
    • September 22, 1997
    ...to have a fair trial "conducted substantially according to law"). (103) Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966); Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723 (1963); United State's v. Malmay, 671 F.2d 869 (5th Cir. (104) Sparf & Hansen v. United States, 156 U.S. 51, 101-02 (1895). (105) United St......
  • TV or not TV - that is the question.
    • United States
    • Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Vol. 86 No. 3, March 1996
    • March 22, 1996
    ...(346) Harold R. Fatzer, Cameras in the Courtroom: The Kansas Opposition 18 Washburn L.J. 230, 241 (1979). (347) In Rideau v. Louisiana, 373 U.S. 723 (1963), the Supreme Court heard an appeal where the defendant, flanked by law enforcement officers, orally confessed on television two months ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT