Billy Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522 (1975)

In Politics on 30/09/2009 at 12:44 PM

FACTS: Mr. Billy Taylor claimed that his constitutional rights to a jury drawn from a venire constituting a fair cross section of the community were violated because of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure which disallowed the selection of women for the jury who had not filed a written declaration of her desire to be subject to jury service.

ISSUE: Is a jury selection system which operates to exclude an identifiable class of citizens from jury service is in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?

REASONING: Mr. Justice White: In the constitutional context, the Court has unambiguously declared that the American concept of the jury trial contemplates a jury drawn from a fair cross section of the community. A unanimous Court stated in Smith v. Texas, that 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. To exclude racial groups from jury service was said to be at war with our basic concepts of a democratic society and a representative government.

The unmistakable import of this Court’s opinions, at least since 1941, Smith v. Texas, and not repudiated by intervening decisions, is that the selection of a petit jury from a representative cross section of the community is essential component of the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. If the fair cross-section rule is to govern the selection of juries, as we have concluded it must, women cannot be systematically from jury panels are drawn.

DECISION: Reversed and Remanded.

RULE: The fair cross-section requirement is violated by the systematic exclusion of women, who in the judicial district here amounted to 53% of the citizens eligible for jury service.

DISSENTING: Mr. Justice Rehnquist: The Court’s opinion reverses a conviction without a suggestion, much less a showing, that the appellant has been unfairly treated or prejudiced in any way by the manner in which his jury was selected. In so doing, the Court invalidates a jury selection system which it approved only 12 years ago. I disagree with the Court and would affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

The Court stated its belief that jury trial for serious offenses is essential for preventing miscarriages of justice and for assuring that fair trials are provided for all defendants. I cannot conceive that todays decision is necessary to guard against oppressive or arbitrary law enforcement, or to prevent miscarriages of justice and to assure fair trials. Especially is this so when the criminal defendant involved makes no claims of prejudice or bias.

The court does accord some slight attention to justifying its ruling in terms of the basis on which the right to jury trial was read into the Fourteenth Amendment. It concludes that the jury is not effective, as a prophylaxis against arbitrary prosecutorial and judicial power, the if jury pool is made up of only special segments of the populace or if large, distinctive groups or excluded from the pool. It fails however to provide any satisfactory explanation of the mechanism by which the Louisiana system undermines to prophylactic role of the jury, either in general or in this case.


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