United States v. Wood

Decision Date07 December 1936
Docket NumberNo. 34,34
Citation81 L.Ed. 78,57 S.Ct. 177,299 U.S. 123
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 123-125 intentionally omitted] Messrs. Homer S. Cummings, Atty. Gen., and Paul S. McMahon, Asst. Atty. Gen., for petitioner.

Messrs. Wm. E. Leahy and Robert I. Miller, both of Washington, D.C., for respondent.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 125-130 intentionally omitted] Mr. Chief Justice HUGHES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question of the constitutional validity of the Act of Congress of August 22, 1935, c. 605, 49 Stat. 682, prescribing qualifications for service as jurors in the District of Columbia, as applied to criminal prosecutions.

The respondent was convicted of petit larceny in the Police Court of the District and was sentenced to imprisonment for 240 days. The larceny was from a private corporation. On his trial twelve prospective jurors were called. Their examination showed that one was the holder of a 'bonus certificate'; others were employed as clerks in governmental departments, one in the United States Weather Bureau, another in the Federal Emergency Administration, a third in the Treasury Department, and a fourth in the Navy Yard. Another prospective juror was a housewife who received a Civil War pension. Each of these persons was challenged for cause upon the ground of interest in the United States government. The challenge was disallowed. Counsel for defendant then exhausted his three peremptory challenges and when the jury was finally selected there remained as jurors, despite a reiterated challenge for cause, the recipient of the Civil War pension and the two clerks employed in the Treasury Department and the Navy Yard respectively.

The action of the trial court was taken under the Act of August 22, 1935, which provides that persons of this description shall be eligible for jury service.1 On appeal the Court of Appeals (65 App.D.C. 330, 83 F.(2d) 587, 589) thus stated the occasion for the statute, its purport, and the question it raises:

'Prior to the passage of this statute, the provision with relation to the qualifications of a juror was that he should be a citizen of the United States, a resident of the District of Columbia, over 21 and under 65 years of age, able to read and write and understand the English language, and a person who had never been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. In 1908, the Supreme Court held in Crawford v. United States, 212 U.S. 183, 29 S.Ct. 260, 264, 53 L.Ed. 465, 15 Ann.Cas. 392, that an employee of the United States was not qualified to serve as a member of a petit jury in the District of Columbia in the trial of a criminal case. The effect of the decision and of others of like nature which followed, resulted, it is said, in narrowing the eligible list of jurors in the District to the point where it sometimes became difficult to secure jurors possessing the necessary qualifications. To correct this, Congress extended the list of eligibles to include employees of the United States and of the District of Columbia, officers and enlisted men of the National Guard and of the Military, Naval, Marine, and Coast Guard Reserve Corps, notaries public, postmasters, and recipients of pensions and gratuities from the United States or the District, as well as those having contracts with the United States or the District; and the question we have to decide is whether this statute, when applied in a criminal case like the present, is in violation of the provisions of the Sixth Amendment guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right of trial by an impartial jury.'

Dealing particularly with the qualification of governmental employees, the court answered this question in the affirmative and reversed the judgment of conviction. 65 App.D.C. 330, 83 F.(2d) 587. Because of the importance of the question, we granted certiorari. 298 U.S. 652, 56 S.Ct. 947, 80 L.Ed. 1379.

First. The Sixth Amendment requires that 'in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.' The Amendment prescribes no specific tests. The bias of a prospective juror may be actual or implied; that is, it may be bias in fact or bias conclusively presumed as matter of law. There is no ground for a contention—and we do not find that such a contention is made—that Congress has undertaken to preclude the ascertainment of actual bias. All persons otherwise qualified for jury service are subject to examination as to actual bias. All the resources of appropriate judicial inquiry remain avail- able in this instance as in others to ascertain whether a prospective juror, although not exempted from service, has any bias in fact which would prevent his serving as an impartial juror. In dealing with an employee of the government, the court would properly by solicitous to discover whether in view of the nature or circumstances of his employment, or of the relation of the particular governmental activity to the matters involved in the prosecution, or otherwise, he had actual bias, and, if he had, to disqualify him. No bias of that sort is shown in the instant case.

The question here is as to implied bias, a bias attributable in law to the prospective juror regardless of actual partiality. The contention of the defendant is that there must be read into the constitutional requirement an absolute disqualification in criminal cases of a person employed by the government, a disqualification which Congress is powerless to remove or modify. This contention gives rise to two inquiries—(1) Whether, in the practice in England prior to the adoption of the Amendment, or in the colonies, there was an absolute disqualification of governmental employees to serve on juries in criminal cases, and (2) whether, either because of that practice, or in reason, such a disqualification should be regarded as essential to the impartiality of the jury and hence beyond the reach of the legislative power. The government insists that both questions should be answered in the negative.

Second. The government has presented the result of elaborate research to show that throughout the long period from the development of the jury system to modern times, the English common law permitted a servant of the King to serve as a juror in crown cases, provided he had no actual bias.

Challenges at common law were to the array, that is, with respect to the constitution of the panel, or to the polls, for disqualification of a juror. Challenges to the polls were either 'principal' or 'to the favor,' the former being upon grounds of absolute disqualification, the latter for actual bias. The government quotes the statements of early commentators from Fitzherbert to Hargrave, indicating that a principal challenge was not allowed in crown cases upon the ground that the prospective juror was a servant of the crown, and that a challenge for that reason, if permitted at all, was to the favor.2 The government reviews the early cases in support of this conclusion.3 It is not necessary to set forth these authorities in detail as there seems to be no controversy as to their purport. We give in the margin the analysis presented by respondent's counsel.4 Their re sume is as follows:

'From the above it seems that nineteen authorities hold that there is no principal cause of challenge against a Crown Servant; that twelve authorities hold that there is not even any challenge for favor. Fitzherbert, Coke, and Rex v. Hampden, 9 St.Tr. 1054, 1057, 1061, allow challenges for favor in respect of menial servants. Actual malice as distinguished from favor was allowed as a challenge by: Staunforde, Lord Hale, Duncombe, Hawkins, Matthew Bacon, Year Book 19 Ass. 62 Pl. 639, Rex v. Genney, Keilw. 102a, Reg. v. Blakeman, 175 Eng.Rpt. 479. Brooke allowed no challenge of any kind for the defendant but challenge of either kind for the king's side.'

Respondent's counsel quote from the commentators their statements of the reason why a crown servant was not challengeable, as that 'he should favor the King by reason of his obedience';5 or, as put by Lord Coke, 'because in respect of his allegiance he ought to favor the king more.'6 Hargrave, expressing dissatisfaction with the reason assigned by Lord Coke, observed: 'But a better principle to found the rule upon was not unobvious; namely, that from the extensive variety of the king's connections with his subjects through tenures and offices, if favour to him was to prevail as an exception to a juror, it might lead to an infinitude of objections, and so operate as a serious obstruction to justice in suits in which he is a party.'7 The discussion of the reason for the rule affirms its existence.

Whatever the reason, it is manifest, to say the least, that there was no settled practice under the English law establishing an absolute disqualification of governmental employees to serve as jurors in criminal cases. And such a disqualification cannot, upon the ground of such a practice, be treated as embedded in the Sixth Amendment. See Callan v. Wilson, 127 U.S. 540, 549, 8 S.Ct. 1301, 32 L.Ed. 223; Thompson v. Utah, 170 U.S. 343, 350, 18 S.Ct. 620, 42 L.Ed. 1061; Patton v. United States, 281 U.S. 276, 288, 50 S.Ct. 253, 254, 74 L.Ed. 854, 70 A.L.R. 263; Dimick v. Schiedt, 293 U.S. 474, 476, 487, 55 S.Ct. 296, 301, 79 L.Ed. 603, 95 A.L.R. 1150; Continental Illinois Bank & Trust Co. v. Rock Island Railway, 294 U.S. 648, 669, 55 S.ct. 595, 603, 79 L.Ed. 1110; 2 Story on the Constitution, § 1791.

We turn to the question whether in the colonies, or in the states at the time of the adoption of the Sixth Amendment, there was such a disqualification. We find no satisfactory evidence to that effect. Counsel for the government say that the practice in the colonies prior to the adoption, of the Federal Constitution 'apparently cannot be ascertained.' They say that they have...

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