Brown v. Louisiana
447 U.S. 323 (1980)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Brown v. Louisiana, 447 U.S. 323 (1980)

Brown v. Louisiana

No. 79-5364

Argued March 25, 1980

Decided June 16, 1980

447 U.S. 323

Syllabus

While petitioner's appeal from his felony conviction -- based on a nonunanimous six-person jury verdict -- was pending in the Louisiana Supreme Court, Burch v. Louisiana,441 U. S. 130, was decided, holding unconstitutional those provisions of the Louisiana Constitution and Code of Criminal Procedure that sanctioned conviction of a nonpetty offense by a nonunanimous jury of six. The Louisiana Supreme Court thereafter affirmed petitioner's conviction, holding that the rule of Burch v. Louisiana, supra, should not be applied retroactively to cases tried by juries empaneled prior to the date of that decision.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded. Pp. 447 U. S. 327-337; 337.

371 So.2d 746, reversed and remanded.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, joined by MR. JUSTICE STEWART, MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concluded that the constitutional principle announced in Burch v. Louisiana, supra, that conviction of a nonpetty criminal offense in a state court by a nonunanimous six-person jury violates the accused's right to trial by jury guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment as applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, should be given retroactive application. Pp. 447 U. S. 327-337.

(a) The test for deciding whether a new constitutional doctrine should be applied retroactively contemplates the consideration of (i) the purpose to be served by the new doctrine; (ii) the extent of the reliance by law enforcement authorities on the old standards; and (iii) the impact on the administration of justice of a retroactive application of the new standards. Foremost among these factors is the first, and controlling significance will be given to factors (ii) and (iii) only when factor (i) does not clearly favor retroactivity or prospectivity. Pp. 447 U. S. 327-329.

(b) Burch established that the concurrence of six jurors was constitutionally required to preserve the substance of the jury trial right and assure the reliability of the jury's verdict. The Burch rule's purpose to eliminate a practice that threatened the jury's ability properly to perform its function of determining the truth in serious criminal cases clearly requires retroactive application. Pp. 447 U. S. 330-334.

(c) Due regard for the State's good faith reliance on the old standards and the impact of retroactivity on the administration of justice does not

Page 447 U. S. 324

counsel a contrary result. Here, the element of justifiable reliance on pre-Burch standards is minimal, since, unlike other cases that have been accorded prospective effect only, Burch did not overrule any prior decisions of this Court or invalidate a practice of heretofore unquestioned legitimacy. Similarly, retroactive application of the Burch rule here will not have a devastating impact on the administration of criminal law, since it appears that, by 1979, only two States permitted conviction of nonpetty offenses by a nonunanimous six-member jury, and that one of them -- Louisiana -- did not institute its scheme until 1975. Moreover, the decision in this case will not affect the validity of all convictions obtained under Louisiana's unconstitutional jury practice during that 4-year period, but only those in which it can be shown that the verdict was less than unanimous. 447 U. S. 335-337.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, joined by MR. JUSTICE STEVENS, being of the view that new constitutional rules should apply retroactively in cases still pending on direct review, such as the instant case, concurred in the judgment. P. 447 U. S. 337.

BRENNAN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which STEWART, MARSHALL, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 337. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 447 U. S. 337.

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