Smith v. State of Texas

Decision Date25 November 1940
Docket NumberNo. 33,33
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Messrs. Sam W. Davis, William A. Vinson, and Harry W. Freeman, all of Houston, Tex., for petitioner.

Mr. George W. Barcus, of Austin, Tex., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Harris County, Texas, where petitioner, a negro, was indicted and convicted of rape, negroes constitute over 20 per cent of the population, and almost 10 per cent of the poll-tax payers; a minimum of from three to six thousand of them measure up to the qualifications prescribed by Texas statutes for grand jury service. The court clerk, called as a state witness and testifying from court records covering the years 1931 through 1938, showed that only 5 of the 384 grand jurors who served during that period were negroes; that of 512 persons summoned for grand jury duty, only 18 were negroes; that of these 18 the names of 13 appeared as the last name on the 16 man jury list, the custom being to select the 12 man grand jury in the order that the names appeared on the list; that of the 5 negroes summoned for grand jury service who were not given the number 16, 4 were given numbers between 13 and 16, and 1 was number 6; that the result of this numbering was that of the 18 negroes summoned, only 5 ever served, whereas 379 of the 494 white men summoned actually served; that of 32 grand juries empanelled, only 5 had negro members, while 27 had none; that of these 5, the same individual served 3 times, so that only 3 individual negroes served at all; that there had been no negroes on any of the grand juries in 1938, the year petitioner was indicted; that there had been none on any of the grand juries in 1937; that the service of negroes by years had been: 1931, 1; 1932, 2; 1933, 1; 1934, 1; 1935, none; 1936, 1; 1937, none; 1938, none.

It is petitioner's contention that his conviction was based on an indictment obtained in violation of the provision of the Fourteenth Amendment that 'No state Articles 333—350, Vernon's Ann.C.C.P. jurisdiction the equal protection of the three grand jury commissioners are appointed; was denied him rests on a charge that negroes were in 1938 and long prior thereto intentionally and systematically excluded from grand jury service solely on account of their race and color. That a conviction based upon an indictment returned by a jury so selected is a denial of equal protection is well settled,1 and is not challenged by the state. But both the from different parts of the county; they of Appeals were of opinion that the evidence failed to support the charge of racial discrimination. For that reason the Appellate Court approved the trial court's action in denying petitioner's timely motion to quash the indictment. 2 But the question decided rested upon a charge of denial of equal protection, a basic right protected by the Federal Constitution. And it is therefore our responsibility to appraise the evidence as it relates to this constitutional right.3

It is part of the established tradition in the use of juries as instruments of public justice that the jury be a body truly representative of the community. For racial discrimination to result in the exclusion from jury service of otherwise qualified groups not only violates our Constitution and the laws enacted under it4 but is at war with our basic concepts of a democratic society and a representative government. We must consider this record in the light of these important principles. The fact that the written words of a state's laws hold out a promise that no such discrimination will be practiced is not enough. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that equal protection to all must be given—not merely promised.

Here, the Texas statutory scheme is not in itself unfair; it is capable of being carried out with no racial dis- crimination whatsoever.5 But by reason of the wide discretion permissible in the various steps of the plan, it is equally capable of being applied in such a manner as practically to proscribe any...

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546 cases
  • People v. McDowell
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 20 Septiembre 1972
    ...violates the constitutional requirement that 'the jury be a body truly representative of the community.' (Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84, 86.) In Thiel v. Southern Pacific Company, Supra, 328 U.S. 217, 66 S.Ct. 984, 90 L.Ed. 1181, a case arising from Calif......
  • State v. Gibbs
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 19 Septiembre 2000
    ...such a manner as practically to proscribe any group thought by the law's administrators to be undesirable"; Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 131, 61 S. Ct. 164, 85 L. Ed. 84 (1940); or that "the State [has] . . . deliberately and systematically [denied] to members of [a] race the right to part......
  • Rubio v. Superior Court
    • United States
    • California Supreme Court
    • 24 Abril 1979
    ...a number of compelling reasons why such a requirement would be improper. In the first instance, in Smith v. Texas (1940) 311 U.S. 128, 130, 61 S.Ct. 164, 165, 85 L.Ed. 84, the U. S. Supreme Court declared over 35 years ago that "(T)he exclusion from jury service of otherwise qualified group......
  • People v. Superior Court (Dean)
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
    • 2 Mayo 1974
    ...supra, 339 U.S. at p. 289, 70 S.Ct. 629; Akins v. Texas (1945) 325 U.S. 398, 403, 65 S.Ct. 1276, 89 L.Ed. 1692; Smith v. Texas (1940) 311 U.S. 128, 132, 61 S.Ct. 164, 85 L.Ed. 84; Rabinowitz v. United States (5th Cir. 1966) 366 F.2d 34, 56--57; Brooks v. Beto (5th Cir. 1966) 366 F.2d 1, 12.......
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15 books & journal articles
  • Batson's Grand Jury DNA
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review No. 97-5, July 2012
    • 1 Julio 2012
    ...barriers to the elimination of jury (grand and petit jury case); Hill v. Texas, 316 U.S. 400 (1942) (grand jury case); Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128 (1940) (grand jury case); Pierre v. Louisiana, 306 U.S. 354 (1939) (grand and petit jury). In the 1935 jury-discrimination case of Hollins v. O......
    • United States
    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 72 No. 3, March 2022
    • 22 Marzo 2022
    ...participation of African Americans for grand-jury service to their proportional representation in the local community); Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 132 (1940) (ruling that a conviction must be set aside if there was discrimination in the selection of the grand jury); Hale v. Kentucky, 303......
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 170 No. 4, March 2022
    • 1 Marzo 2022
    ...One is hard pressed to imagine that the Court really believes this, since the public obviously does not."). (152) Cf. Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128, 130 (1940) ("For racial discrimination to result in the exclusion from jury service of otherwise qualified groups not only violates our Constit......
  • The Overseas Exchange of Human Rights Jurisprudence: The U.S. Supreme Court in the European Court of Human Rights
    • United States
    • Sage International Criminal Justice Review No. 19-3, September 2009
    • 1 Septiembre 2009
    ...40, 1103-1124.Slaughter, Anne-Marie. (2003). A global community of courts. Harvard International Law Journal, 44, 191-219.Smith v. Texas, 311 U.S. 128 (1940).Soering v. UK, 7 July 1989, Series A no. 161.State of Ohio v. Williams, 2004 Ohio 4476 (Ohio App. Ct. 2004).Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 ......
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