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Brasfield v. United States

U.S.
Nov 22, 1926
272 U.S. 448 (1926)

Summary

holding it was reversible error for a federal district judge to ask a deadlocked jury the extent of its numerical division

Summary of this case from State v. Rodriguez

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

No. 243.

Argued October 13, 1926. Decided November 22, 1926.

1. An inquiry, put by the trial judge to a jury unable to agree, asking the extent of its division numerically, is per se ground for reversal. P. 449. 2. Failure of counsel to particularize an exception to such an inquiry does not preclude this Court from correcting the error. P. 450. 8 F.2d 472, reversed.

CERTIORARI ( 269 U.S. 550) to a judgment of the Circuit Court of Appeals affirming a conviction in a prosecution for conspiracy.

Mr. John W. Preston for the petitioner, submitted. Assistant to the Attorney General Donovan, with whom Solicitor General Mitchell and Mr. William D. Whitney, Special Assistant to the Attorney General, were on the brief, for the United States.


Petitioners were convicted in the District Court for northern California of the offense (§ 37 of the Criminal Code) of conspiracy to possess and transport intoxicating liquors in violation of the National Prohibition Act. The conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 8 F.2d 472. This Court granted certiorari. 269 U.S. 550; Jud. Code, § 240(a) as amended.

The only errors assigned which are pressed upon us concern proceedings had upon the recall of the jury after its retirement. The jury having failed to agree after some hours of deliberation, the trial judge inquired how it was divided numerically, and was informed by the foreman that it stood nine to three, without his indicating which number favored a conviction.

In Burton v. United States, 196 U.S. 283, 307, where a conviction was reversed on other grounds, this Court condemned the practice of inquiring of a jury unable to agree, the extent of its numerical division, although a response indicating the vote in favor of or against conviction was neither sought nor obtained. This Court then said (p. 308):

". . . we do not think that the proper administration of the law requires such knowledge or permits such a question on the part of the presiding judge."

There is a diversity of view in the circuit courts of appeals whether non-compliance with the rule as stated in the Burton case is reversible error, or whether the expressions in that opinion are hortatory only. See St. Louis S.F.R.R. v. Bishard (C. C.A. 8th), 147 F. 496; Stewart v. United States (C. C.A. 8th), 300 F. 769, 782, et seq.; Nigro v. United States (C. C.A. 8th), 4 F.2d 781, holding that the inquiry requires a reversal; and compare Bernal v. United States (C. C.A. 5th), 241 F. 339, 342; Quong Duck v. United States (C. C.A. 9th), 293 F. 563, 564, supporting the view that the practice, while improper, is not prejudicial error.

We deem it essential to the fair and impartial conduct of the trial, that the inquiry itself should be regarded as ground for reversal. Such procedure serves no useful purpose that cannot be attained by questions not requiring the jury to reveal the nature or extent of its division. Its effect upon a divided jury will often depend upon circumstances which cannot properly be known to the trial judge or to the appellate courts and may vary widely in different situations, but in general its tendency is coercive. It can rarely be resorted to without bringing to bear in some degree, serious although not measurable, an improper influence upon the jury, from whose deliberations every consideration other than that of the evidence and the law as expounded in a proper charge, should be excluded. Such a practice, which is never useful and is generally harmful, is not to be sanctioned.

The failure of petitioners' counsel to particularize an exception to the court's inquiry does not preclude this Court from correcting the error. Cf. Wiborg v. United States, 163 U.S. 632, 658, et seq.; Clyatt v. United States, 197 U.S. 207, 220, et seq.; Crawford v. United States, 212 U.S. 183, 194; Weems v. United States, 217 U.S. 349, 362. This is especially the case where the error, as here, affects the proper relations of the court to the jury, and cannot be effectively remedied by modification of the judge's charge after the harm has been done.

It is unnecessary to consider other assignments of error directed to the instructions given the jury at the time of its recall.

Judgment reversed.


Summaries of

Brasfield v. United States

U.S.
Nov 22, 1926
272 U.S. 448 (1926)

holding it was reversible error for a federal district judge to ask a deadlocked jury the extent of its numerical division

Summary of this case from State v. Rodriguez

holding that trial court inquiry into jury division "can rarely be resorted to without bringing to bear in some degree ... an improper influence upon the jury, from whose deliberations every consideration other than that of the evidence and the law as expounded in a proper charge, should be excluded"

Summary of this case from State v. Hicks

holding that trial court inquiry into jury division "can rarely be resorted to without bringing to bear in some degree ... an improper influence upon the jury, from whose deliberations every consideration other than that of the evidence and the law as expounded in a proper charge, should be excluded"

Summary of this case from State v. Roberson

holding that the judge's inquiry into the jury's numerical division was improper due to the potential dangers of jury polling by relying on the Court's supervisory powers

Summary of this case from State v. Mobley

holding that the judge's inquiry into the jury's numerical division was improper due to the potential dangers of jury polling by relying on the Court's supervisory powers

Summary of this case from State v. Pullin

holding that the judge's inquiry into the jury's numerical division was improper due to the potential dangers of jury polling by relying on the Court's supervisory powers

Summary of this case from State v. Pullin

finding that questioning by judge as to numerical division of jury was improper

Summary of this case from Booth-El v. Nuth

concluding that an inquiry into how the jury is divided is unduly coercive

Summary of this case from Parker v. Berghuis

concluding that an inquiry into how the jury is divided is unduly coercive

Summary of this case from Love v. Ludwick

reversing judgment for plain error where the trial judge improperly inquired of a jury's numerical division

Summary of this case from Rosales-Mireles v. United States

reversing criminal conviction following judge's inquiry as to the numerical division of the jury while the jury was deadlocked

Summary of this case from United States v. Darden

reversing conviction where trial judge inquired and was informed how jury was divided numerically, without indication of which number favored conviction, and despite that defense counsel made no objection

Summary of this case from Melancon v. State

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448 (1926), the trial court had, after deliberations stalled, inquired as to how the jury was divided, and was informed simply that the jury stood nine to three.

Summary of this case from Lowenfield v. Phelps

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 47 S.Ct. 135, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926), the trial judge recalled the jury after it had deliberated for several hours and asked the jury what its numerical division was.

Summary of this case from Lyell v. Renico

In Brasfield, the Supreme Court held that a federal court of appeals must overturn any verdict obtained after a trial court inquires into the numerical breakdown of a jury.

Summary of this case from Lyell v. Renico

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 450, 47 S.Ct. 135, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926), the Court held that it is not harmless error for a trial judge to inquire into how a jury is divided.

Summary of this case from Sanders v. Lamarque

In Brasfield, the Supreme Court established that it is per se error for a court to inquire into the jury's numerical division.

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Parsons

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 47 S.Ct. 135, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926), the Supreme Court held that a judge's inquiry into how the jury was divided was coercive and required reversal.

Summary of this case from United States v. Lash

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 449-50, 47 S.Ct. 135, 135-36, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926), the Supreme Court condemned this practice as a ground for reversal.

Summary of this case from Lowenfield v. Phelps

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 47 S.Ct. 135, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926), the Supreme Court held that "the inquiry itself should be regarded as grounds for reversal."

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Webb

In Brasfield v. United States, 272 U.S. 448, 450, 47 S.Ct. 135, 136, 71 L.Ed. 345 (1926), more than a half century ago, Justice Stone noted that the coercive effect of a judge's remarks "will often depend upon circumstances which cannot properly be known to the trial judge or to the appellate courts and may vary widely in different situations....

Summary of this case from United States v. Graham

In Brasfield Justice Stone made it clear that the Court meant what it had said and the failure of some of the lower federal courts to follow Burton's dicta arguably led to the emphatic language he used. Ellis, 596 F.2d at 1198; Cornell, 628 F.2d at 1047; Kirk, 678 F.2d at 726.

Summary of this case from Locks v. Sumner

In Brasfield, the Supreme Court reversed a number of convictions for violations of the National Prohibition Act on the ground that the trial court had improperly inquired of the jury how it was divided numerically when no verdict had been reached after several hours of deliberations.

Summary of this case from U.S. ex Rel. Kirk v. Dir., Dept. of Correct

In Brasfield, the Supreme Court reversed a conspiracy conviction in federal court obtained after the trial judge had recalled the jury and inquired of the foreman as to the jury's numerical division.

Summary of this case from Cornell v. State of Iowa

Giving Allen charge after inquiry by court as to extent of jury's division was coercive

Summary of this case from United States v. Sawyers
Case details for

Brasfield v. United States

Case Details

Full title:BRASFIELD ET AL. v . UNITED STATES

Court:U.S.

Date published: Nov 22, 1926

Citations

272 U.S. 448 (1926)
47 S. Ct. 135

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