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Davis v. Georgia

U.S.
Dec 6, 1976
429 U.S. 122 (1976)

Summary

holding that, where venireman is improperly excluded from jury for opposition to capital punishment, "subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand"

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

Opinion

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA

No. 76-5403.

Decided December 6, 1976

Petitioner's death sentence for murder cannot be carried out where one prospective juror was excluded from the jury for cause for merely expressing scruples against the death penalty, rather than being irrevocably committed to vote against it. Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510.

Certiorari granted; 236 Ga. 804, 225 S.E.2d 241, reversed and remanded.


The petitioner in this case was convicted of murder and sentenced to death after trial by a jury selected in violation of the standards enunciated in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968), and applied in Boulden v. Holman, 394 U.S. 478 (1969), and Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 U.S. 262 (1970). The Witherspoon case held that "a sentence of death cannot be carried out if the jury that imposed or recommended it was chosen by excluding veniremen for cause simply because they voiced general objections to the death penalty or expressed conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction." 391 U.S., at 522.

The Supreme Court of Georgia found that one prospective juror had been excluded in violation of the Witherspoon standard. The court nevertheless affirmed the conviction and death sentence, reasoning that the erroneous exclusion of one death-scrupled juror did not deny the petitioner a jury representing a cross section of the community since other jurors sharing that attitude were not excused for cause: "The rationale of Witherspoon and its progeny is not violated where merely one of a qualified class or group is excluded where it is shown, as here, that others of such group were qualified to serve. This record is completely void of any evidence of a systematic and intentional exclusion of a qualified group of jurors so as to deny the appellant a jury of veniremen representing a cross section of the community." 236 Ga. 804, 809-810, 225 S.E.2d 241, 244-245.

That, however, is not the test established in Witherspoon, and it is not the test that this Court has applied in subsequent cases where a death penalty was imposed after the improper exclusion of one member of the venire. See Wigglesworth v. Ohio, 403 U.S. 947 (1971), rev'g 18 Ohio St.2d 171, 248 N.E.2d 607 (1969); Harris v. Texas, 403 U.S. 947 (1971), rev'g 457 S.W.2d 903 (Tex.Crim.App. 1970); Adams v. Washington, 403 U.S. 947 (1971), rev'g 76 Wn.2d 650, 458 P.2d 558 (1969). Unless a venireman is "irrevocably committed, before the trial has begun, to vote against the penalty of death regardless of the facts and circumstances that might emerge in the course of the proceedings," 391 U.S., at 522 n. 21, he cannot be excluded; if a venireman is improperly excluded even though not so committed, any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand.

Accordingly, the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and the petition for certiorari are granted, the judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.


As is clear from the most cursory reading, Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968), does not inexorably lead to the result this Court now reaches. Indeed, much of the language in that opinion would support the reasoning, and the result, reached by the Supreme Court of Georgia. The extension of Witherspoon to cover the case where a sole venireman is excluded in violation of its test deserves plenary consideration, not a per se rule that precludes application of even the harmless-error test of Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967). There is no indication that the Supreme Court of Georgia was wrong when it observed that the "record is completely void of any evidence of a systematic and intentional exclusion of a qualified group of jurors so as to deny the appellant a jury of veniremen representing a cross section of the community," 236 Ga. 804, 809-810, 225 S.E.2d 241, 245.

It is, moreover, unclear whether the State was entitled to another peremptory challenge, and surely Witherspoon does not decide whether the presence of unexercised peremptory challenges might render harmless the improper exclusion of a limited number of veniremen. Finally, the defect in this case is not that a juror was improperly excluded because she was not irrevocably opposed to the death penalty; rather, the defect is a failure to question sufficiently to determine whether or not she was irrevocably opposed. It is not inconceivable that a hearing with the excluded juror could be conducted now to finish the aborted questioning and determine whether she would have, in fact, been excludable for cause.

Normally, the defense, in a capital case, is entitled to 20 peremptory challenges, and the State is entitled to one-half as many as the defense. Ga. Code Ann. § 59-805 (1965). In this case, the transcript reveals that the defense utilized 21 peremptory challenges; the State, 10.

The effects of the arguably improper exclusion, in short, are too murky to warrant summary reversal of the sentence imposed. Since I do not believe this case is controlled by our past decisions, I would grant certiorari and set the case for argument.


Summaries of

Davis v. Georgia

U.S.
Dec 6, 1976
429 U.S. 122 (1976)

holding that, where venireman is improperly excluded from jury for opposition to capital punishment, "subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand"

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

holding that the exclusion of a single potential juror in violation of the principles set forth in Witherspoon means that "any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand"

Summary of this case from Cannon v. Gibson

holding that the improper exclusion of one veniremember out of 83 was reversible error

Summary of this case from Gall v. Parker

holding that if a venireman who opposes the death penalty but is not "irrevocably committed" is improperly excluded, any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand.

Summary of this case from United States of America v. Padilla-Mendoza

holding that exclusion of potential juror who qualifies under Witherspoon requires vacation of death sentence

Summary of this case from People v. Brisbon

holding that the lack of systematic, intentional exclusion of a qualified group of jurors is not the determining test, but rather, whether "a venireman is improperly excluded," and if so, "any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand

Summary of this case from Crawford v. State

holding that venireperson is properly excluded only if he or she is "`irrevocably committed'" against death penalty regardless of facts and circumstances that might emerge at trial; if a venireperson is excluded but not "so committed" against the death penalty, "any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand"

Summary of this case from McRae v. Commonwealth

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122 (1976) (per curiam), we held that if a single venire member is erroneously excluded for cause because of his views on the death penalty, a subsequently imposed capital sentence is invalid.

Summary of this case from Gray v. Mississippi

In Davis v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that, despite the erroneous exclusion of a venire member whose scruples about the death penalty did not justify Witherspoon exclusion, Davis' death sentence could stand.

Summary of this case from Gray v. Mississippi

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122 (1976), the Court held that the improper exclusion of one juror renders a death sentence constitutionally infirm per se.

Summary of this case from Darden v. Wainwright

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122 (1976), the Court applied the Witherspoon doctrine to a case arising under a death penalty scheme similar in some respects to the current Texas system.

Summary of this case from Adams v. Texas

remanding capital case for reconsideration where a single juror was erroneously removed for bias

Summary of this case from Fuller v. Johnson

establishing a "per se rule" requiring vacating a death sentence where a single juror with conscientious scruples against the death penalty was erroneously excluded, since assuming other jurors shared the same attitude as the excluded panelist was not harmless error

Summary of this case from Montiel v. Chappell

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976) (per curiam), the Supreme Court considered a case where potential jurors were excluded from the jury panel because they expressed general objections to the death penalty in violation of the federal due process principles announced in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968).

Summary of this case from State v. Jonas

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976) (per curiam), the Court established a per se rule "requiring the vacation of a death sentence imposed by a jury from which a potential juror, who has conscientious scruples against the death penalty but who nevertheless under Witherspoon is eligible to serve, has been erroneously excluded for cause."

Summary of this case from Russell v. State

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976) (per curiam), the Court established a per se rule "requiring the vacation of a death sentence imposed by a jury from which a potential juror, who has conscientious scruples against the death penalty but who nevertheless under Witherspoon is eligible to serve, has been erroneously excluded for cause."

Summary of this case from Balfour v. State

In Davis the Supreme Court held that when such a person is excluded from the jury then "any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand."

Summary of this case from People v. Szabo

In Davis the Supreme Court of Georgia acknowledged that one prospective juror had been excluded in violation of the Witherspoon standard.

Summary of this case from Chandler v. State

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976), the Court reaffirmed the Witherspoon doctrine and held that no death penalty can stand if a single venireman is excluded in violation of that doctrine.

Summary of this case from O'Bryan v. State

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 123 (97 S.C. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339) (1976), the court said in a per curiam opinion: "Unless a venireman is `irrevocably committed, before the trial has begun, to vote against the penalty of death regardless of the facts and circumstances that might emerge in the course of the proceedings' (391 U.S. at 522 n. 21), he cannot be excluded; if a venireman is improperly excluded even though not so committed, any subsequently imposed death penalty cannot stand."

Summary of this case from Alderman v. State

In Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976), the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of even one venireman in violation of Witherspoon was constitutionally prohibited.

Summary of this case from White v. State
Case details for

Davis v. Georgia

Case Details

Full title:DAVIS v . GEORGIA

Court:U.S.

Date published: Dec 6, 1976

Citations

429 U.S. 122 (1976)
97 S. Ct. 399

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