Gibson v. Mississippi,
162 U.S. 565 (1896)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Gibson v. Mississippi, 162 U.S. 565 (1896)

Gibson v. Mississippi

No. 711

Argued and submitted December 18, 1895

Decided April 18, 1896

162 U.S. 565


The principle reaffirmed that while a state, consistently with the purposes for which the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted, may confine the selection of jurors to males, to freeholders, to citizens, to persons within certain ages, or to persons having educational qualifications, and while a mixed jury in a particular case is not, within the meaning of the Constitution, always or absolutely necessary to the enjoyment of the equal protection of the laws, and therefore an accused, being of the colored race, cannot claim as matter of right that his race shall be represented on the jury; yet a denial to citizens of the African race, because of their color, of the right or privilege accorded to white citizens of participating as jurors in the administration of justice would be a discrimination against the former inconsistent with the amendment and within the power of Congress, by appropriate legislation, to prevent.

Section 641 of the Revised Statutes, providing for the removal of civil suits or criminal prosecutions from the state courts into the circuit courts of the United States, does not embrace a case in which a right is denied by judicial action during a trial, or in the sentence, or in the mode of executing the sentence. For such denials arising from judicial action after a trial commenced, the remedy lies in the revisory power of the higher courts of the state, and ultimately in the power of review which this

Page 162 U. S. 566

court may exercise over their judgments whenever rights, privileges, or immunities claimed under the Constitution or laws of the United States are withheld or violated. The denial or inability to enforce in the judicial tribunals of the states rights secured by any law providing for the equal civil rights of citizens of the United States, to which section 641 refers, and on account of which a criminal prosecution may be removed from a state court, is primarily, if not exclusively, a denial of such rights or an inability to enforce them resulting from the Constitution or laws of the state, rather than a denial first made manifest at or during the trial of the case.

The fact that citizens of the African race had been excluded because of their race from service on previous grand juries as well as from the grand jury which returned the particular indictment in the case on trial will not authorize a removal of the prosecution under section 641 of the Revised Statutes, but is competent evidence only on a motion to quash the indictment.

It is not every denial by a state enactment of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States that is embraced by section 641 of the Revised Statutes. The right of removal given by that section exists only in the special cases mentioned in it.

The requirement of the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 that no person should be a grand or petit juror unless he was a qualified elector and able to read and write did not prevent the legislature from providing, as was done in the Code of 1892, that persons selected for jury service should possess good intelligence, sound judgment, and fair character. Such regulations are always within the power of a legislature to establish unless forbidden by the Constitution. They tend to secure the proper administration of justice, and are in the interest, equally, of the public and of persons accused of crime.

The Mississippi Code of 1892, in force when the indictment was found, did not affect in any degree the substantial rights of those who had committed crime prior to its going into effect. It did not make criminal and punishable any act that was innocent when committed, nor aggravate any crime previously committed, nor inflict a greater punishment than the law annexed to such crime at the time of its commission, nor alter the legal rules of evidence in order to convict the offender.

The inhibition upon the passage of ex post facto laws does not give a criminal a right to be tried in all respects by the law in force when the crime charged was committed. The mode of trial is always under legislative control, subject only to the condition that the legislature may not, under the guise of establishing modes of procedure and prescribing remedies, violate the accepted principles that protect an accused person against ex post facto enactments.

The conduct of a criminal trial in a state court cannot be reviewed by this Court unless the trial is had under some statute repugnant to the Constitution of the United States, or was so conducted as to deprive the accused of some right or immunity secured to him by that instrument.

Page 162 U. S. 567

Mere error in administering the criminal law of a state or in the conduct of a criminal trial -- no federal right being invaded or denied -- is beyond the revisory power of this Court under the statutes regulating its jurisdiction. Indeed, it would not be competent for Congress to confer such power upon this or any other court of the United States.

The Constitution of the United States, in its present form, forbids, so far as civil and political rights are concerned, discrimination by the General government or by the states against any citizen because of his race. All citizens are equal before the law. The guarantees of life, liberty and property are for all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any state, without discrimination against any because of their race. Those guarantees, when their violation is properly presented in the regular course of proceedings, must be enforced in the courts both of the nation and of the state, without reference to considerations based upon race. In the administration of criminal justice, no rule can be applied to one class which is not applicable to all other classes.

The plaintiff in error was indicted in the Circuit Court of Washington County, Mississippi, for the crime of having, in that county, and on the 12th day of December, 1892, killed and murdered one Stinson.

When the case was called for trial, the accused presented a petition for its removal to the Circuit Court of the United States for the Western Division of the Southern District of Mississippi. The petition was verified by the oath of the accused to the effect that the facts set forth in it were true and correct to the best of his knowledge and belief, and was as follows:

"This petition respectfully shows unto this Court hat John Gibson, a citizen of said state and of the United States of America, is a negro of the African descent and color black. That, under the Constitution of the State of Mississippi, which was adopted in the constitutional convention in November, 1890, it prescribes that the qualification for persons to serve as jurors in said state shall be that the ability of said citizens, qualified electors of the county and state, male, being citizens thereof, not having [been] convicted of specified crimes, shall be able to read and write, but the legislature shall provide by law for procuring a list of persons so qualified to draw therefrom of grand and petit jurors for each term of the circuit court. Constitution of Mississippi, Sec. 264. Section 2358

Page 162 U. S. 568

of the Code of Mississippi for 1892, adopted the 1st day of April, 1892, and in force at the time of the finding of the bill of indictment filed herein against relator, provides that at the first meeting of each year or as soon as practicable thereafter, the board of supervisors shall make a list of persons to serve as jurors in the circuit court for the next two terms to be held more than thirty days afterwards, and as a guide in making the list they shall use the registration book of voters, and shall select and list the names of qualified persons of good intelligence, sound judgment, and fair character, and shall take them, as nearly as it can conveniently, from the several districts, in proportion to the number of the qualified persons in each, excluding all who have served on the regular panel within two years, if there be not a deficiency of jurors. Relator states that, under section 283 of the new Constitution of Mississippi, the indictment returned against him should have been by a jury of the grand inquest of the said county, under the laws of the Code of said state, adopted in 1880, because the crime for which this indictment was returned is alleged to have been committed January, 1892, before the statute of 1892 took effect."

"Relator states that under the laws of said state provided by the Code of 1880 thereof, the only qualifications required are shown by section 1661 of said Code, to-wit:"

"All male citizens of the United States and not being under the age of twenty-one years nor over the age of sixty years, and not having been convicted of any infamous crime, shall be qualified to serve as jurors within the County of their residence."

"Section 1664 of Code of 1880 also provides that the board of supervisors of each county shall at least twenty days before every term of the circuit court, select twenty persons competent to serve as jurors in said county, to be taken, as nearly as conveniently may be, in equal numbers from each supervisor's district of the county, who shall serve as grand jurors for the next ensuing term of said court."

"Relator states that at the time the said grand jury of said county was selected, impaneled, and charged by this Court at the December term, 1892, a great federal [right] of his was

Page 162 U. S. 569

abridged, viz., the civil right guarantied to him under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, particularly, to-wit, 'No state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the protection of the laws.'"

"Relator states that on the 9th day of January, 1892, Robert Stinson, a white man, was killed at Refuge plantation in the said county, and that he was accused of the homicide; that prosecution against him had been commenced before the adoption of the Code of 1892; that by reason of the great prejudice against him by the officers charged with the selection of the said jury of grand inquest for the said December term of the said circuit court, which officers so charged are all members of the white race, and the relator herein being a member of the black race, black in color. Although at the time of selecting the grand jurors for the said December term, 1892, there were in the five supervisors' districts of the said County of Washington 7,000 colored citizens competent for jury service of the County of Washington, State of Mississippi, and 1,500 whites qualified to serve as jurors in said county, there had not been for a number of years any colored man ever summoned on the grand jury of said county court, and that the colored citizens were purposely, on account of their color, excluded from jury service by the officers of the law charged with the selection of said jurors. Relator states that by reason of the great prejudice against him in this matter, that the said officers of the law charged with the selection of the said grand jurors for the December term, 1892, on account of his color, being that of a negro, black, and the deceased being that of a white man, of the white race, in selecting persons to serve as grand jurors at said term, all colored men were purposely, on account of their color, excluded by said officers, and that the said grand jury did then and there, being all white men, purposely selected on account of their color, present the bill of indictment against relator for the murder of Robert Stinson aforesaid, on account of his color, and pray summons for witnesses to prove same. Relator avers that by reason of the great prejudice against him on account of his color, he could not secure a fair and impartial trial by an impartial

Page 162 U. S. 570

petit jury of the County of Washington, state aforesaid, and prays an opportunity to subpoena witnesses to prove the same, and therefore after hearing same, doth pray the removal of his case from this Court to the United States Circuit Court for the Western Division of the Southern District of Mississippi, and that record hereof be properly certified to said court by an order from this Court."

The petition for removal was denied, and the defendant excepted to the action of the court.

Thereupon the accused demanded that a special venire be summoned to try his case. The regular jury box for the court having been produced for the purpose of drawing therefrom the special venire, the defendant moved "to quash said jury box" upon the ground that it was illegal, and had but few names therein. That motion was sustained, and a writ of special venire facias was directed to be issued for summoning fifty good and lawful men and qualified jurors to appear on a named day to serve as jurors in the cause. The sheriff was directed to serve on the defendant or his counsel a copy of the writ of venire facias, together with his return thereon showing the names of the persons so summoned, and also a copy of the indictment. This order was executed, and, the requisite number of jurors having appeared, on a subsequent day of the court, the defendant moved to quash the special venire. The motion was overruled, the defendant taking an exception. The accused then announced himself ready for trial. A jury was selected, the defendant pleaded not guilty, and the trial resulted in a verdict of guilty as charged in the indictment. The opinion of the supreme court of the state states that this was the third trial of the defendant for the crime charged, each trial resulting in a verdict of guilty.

A new trial was asked upon various grounds, one of which was that the court erred in overruling the defendant's petition for the removal of the cause into the circuit court of the United States for trial; another, that it erred in not sustaining the motion to quash the special venire of fifty "good and lawful" men to serve as special jurors. These points were insisted upon in the Supreme Court of Mississippi. But that

Page 162 U. S. 571

court held that there was no error in overruling the motion to remove the case into the federal circuit court. It also refused to disturb the verdict and judgment.

Page 162 U. S. 579

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