Vasquez v. Hillery - 474 U.S. 254 (1986)


U.S. Supreme Court

Vasquez v. Hillery, 474 U.S. 254 (1986)

Vasquez v. Hillery

No. 84-836

Argued October 15, 1985

Decided January 14, 1986

474 U.S. 254

Syllabus

In 1962, a California grand jury indicted respondent for murder. Before trial in California Superior Court, the judge refused to quash the indictment on the alleged ground that it had been issued by a grand jury from which blacks had been systematically excluded. Respondent was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder. After unsuccessfully pursuing appeals and collateral relief in the state courts for the next 16 years, respondent filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, again raising his equal protection challenge to the grand jury that indicted him. The District Court upheld the challenge, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held:

1. Respondent's obligation to exhaust state remedies before seeking collateral relief in federal court was not circumvented by the fact that the District Court, pursuant to a valid exercise of its power to expand the record, directed the parties to present supplemental evidence (consisting of affidavits and a computer analysis assessing the mathematical possibility that chance or accident could have accounted for the exclusion of blacks from the grand jury), where such evidence did not fundamentally alter the claim already considered by the state courts. Pp. 474 U. S. 257-260.

2. The longstanding rule requiring reversal of the conviction of a defendant indicted by a grand jury from which members of his own race were systematically excluded will not be abandoned in this case on the theory that discrimination in the grand jury amounted to harmless error, and that respondent's conviction after a fair trial purged any taint attributable to the grand jury process. Intentional discrimination in the selection of grand jurors is a grave constitutional trespass, possible only under color of state authority, and wholly within the State's power to prevent. Even if the grand jury's determination of probable cause to believe that a defendant has committed a crime is confirmed in hindsight by a conviction on the indicted offense, that confirmation does not suggest that discrimination did not impermissibly infect the framing of the indictment and, consequently, the nature or existence of the proceedings to come. And just as a conviction is void under the Equal Protection Clause if the prosecutor deliberately charged the defendant on account of

Page 474 U. S. 255

his race, a conviction cannot be understood to cure the taint attributable to a grand jury selected on the basis of race. Pp. 474 U. S. 260-264.

3. Sound jurisprudence counsels against adoption of a rule whereby the grant of federal habeas corpus relief to a state prisoner would be conditioned upon the passage of time between his conviction and the filing of the federal habeas corpus petition, depending upon the State's ability to obtain a second conviction. Pp. 474 U. S. 264-265.

4. The decision in this case is supported, but not compelled, by the stare decisis doctrine, the means by which this Court ensures that the law will not merely change erratically but will develop in a principled and intelligible fashion. Pp. 474 U. S. 265-266.

733 F.2d 644, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but the sixth paragraph of Part III of which WHITE, J., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 474 U. S. 266. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 474 U. S. 267.



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