A few hours after a man robbed a bank in Lake Charles, La.,
kidnapped three of the bank's employees, and killed one of them,
petitioner was arrested and lodged in the Parish Jail. The next
morning, a motion picture film with a sound track was made of an
"interview" in the jail between petitioner and the Sheriff of the
Parish. This "interview" lasted approximately 20 minutes, and
consisted of interrogation by the Sheriff and admissions by
petitioner that he had perpetrated the bank robbery, kidnapping,
and murder. Later the same day and on the succeeding two days, the
filmed "interview" was broadcast over the local television station
and was seen and heard by many people in the Parish. Subsequently,
petitioner was arraigned on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping,
and murder, and two lawyers were appointed to represent him. They
promptly filed a motion for change of venue, but this was denied
and petitioner was convicted in the trial court of the Parish and
sentenced to death on the murder charge.
It was a denial of due process of law to refuse
the request for a change of venue after the people of the Parish
had been exposed repeatedly and in depth to the spectacle of the
petitioner personally confessing in detail to the crimes with which
he was later to be charged. Pp. 373 U. S.
242 La. 431, 137 So. 2d
MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
On the evening of February 16, 1961, a man robbed a bank in Lake
Charles, Louisiana, kidnapped three of the
Page 373 U. S. 724
bank's employees, and killed one of them. A few hours later, the
petitioner, Wilbert Rideau, was apprehended by the police and
lodged in the Calcasieu Parish jail in Lake Charles. The next
morning, a moving picture film with a sound track was made of an
"interview" in the jail between Rideau and the Sheriff of Calcasieu
Parish. This "interview" lasted approximately 20 minutes. It
consisted of interrogation by the sheriff and admissions by Rideau
that he had perpetrated the bank robbery, kidnapping, and murder.
Later the same day, the filmed "interview" was broadcast over a
television station in Lake Charles, and some 24,000 people in the
community saw and heard it on television. The sound film was again
shown on television the next day to an estimated audience of 53,000
people. The following day, the film was again broadcast by the same
television station, and this time approximately 20,000 people saw
and heard the "interview" on their television sets. Calcasieu
Parish has a population of approximately 150,000 people.
Some two weeks later, Rideau was arraigned on charges of armed
robbery, kidnapping, and murder, and two lawyers were appointed to
represent him. His lawyers promptly filed a motion for a change of
venue on the ground that it would deprive Rideau of rights
guaranteed to him by the United States Constitution to force him to
trial in Calcasieu Parish after the three television broadcasts
there of his "interview" with the sheriff. [Footnote 1
] After a hearing, the motion for change of
venue was denied, and
Page 373 U. S. 725
Rideau was accordingly convicted and sentenced to death on the
murder charge in the Calcasieu Parish trial court.
Three members of the jury which convicted him had stated on voir
dire that they had seen and heard Rideau's televised "interview"
with the sheriff on at least one occasion. Two members of the jury
were deputy sheriffs of Calcasieu Parish. Rideau's counsel had
requested that these jurors be excused for cause, having exhausted
all of their peremptory challenges, but these challenges for cause
had been denied by the trial judge. The judgment of conviction was
affirmed by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, 242 La. 431, 137 So. 2d
, and the case is here on a writ of certiorari, 371 U.S.
The record in this case contains as an exhibit the sound film
which was broadcast. What the people of Calcasieu Parish saw on
their television sets was Rideau, in jail, flanked by the sheriff
and two state troopers, admitting in detail the commission of the
robbery, kidnapping, and murder in response to leading questions by
the sheriff. [Footnote 2
record fails to show whose idea it was to make the sound film and
broadcast it over the local television station, but we know from
the conceded circumstances that the plan was carried out with the
active cooperation and participation of the local law enforcement
officers. And certainly no one has suggested that it was Rideau's
idea, or even that he was aware of what was going on when the sound
film was being made.
Page 373 U. S. 726
In the view we take of this case, the question of who originally
initiated the idea of the televised interview is, in any event, a
basically irrelevant detail. For we hold that it was a denial of
due process of law to refuse the request for a change of venue,
after the people of Calcasieu Parish had been exposed repeatedly
and in depth to the spectacle of Rideau personally confessing in
detail to the crimes with which he was later to be charged. For
anyone who has ever watched television, the conclusion cannot be
avoided that this spectacle, to the tens of thousands of people who
saw and heard it, in a very real sense, was Rideau's trial -- at
which he pleaded guilty to murder. Any subsequent court proceedings
in a community so pervasively exposed to such a spectacle could be
but a hollow formality.
In Brown v. Mississippi, 297 U.
, this Court set aside murder convictions secured
in a state trial with all the formalities of fair procedures, based
upon "free and voluntary confessions" which in fact had been
preceded by grossly brutal kangaroo court proceedings while the
defendants were held in jail without counsel. As Chief Justice
Hughes wrote in that case,
"The state is free to regulate the procedure of its courts in
accordance with its own conceptions of policy. . . . [But] it does
not follow that it may substitute trial by ordeal."
297 U.S. at 297 U. S. 285
Cf. White v. Texas, 310 U. S. 530
That was almost a generation ago, in an era before the onrush of an
The case now before us does not involve physical brutality. The
kangaroo court proceedings in this case involved a more subtle but
no less real deprivation of due process of law. Under our
Constitution's guarantee of due process, a person accused of
committing a crime is vouchsafed basic minimal rights. Among these
are the right to counsel, [Footnote
] the right to plead not guilty, and the
Page 373 U. S. 727
right to be tried in a courtroom presided over by a judge. Yet,
in this case, the people of Calcasieu Parish saw and heard, not
once but three times, a "trial" of Rideau in a jail, presided over
by a sheriff, where there was no lawyer to advise Rideau of his
right to stand mute.
The record shows that such a thing as this never took place
before in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. [Footnote 4
] Whether it has occurred elsewhere, we do not
know. But we do not hesitate to hold, without pausing to examine a
particularized transcript of the voir dire
the members of the jury, that due process of law in this case
required a trial before a jury drawn from a community of people who
had not seen and heard Rideau's televised "interview."
"Due process of law, preserved for all by our Constitution,
commands that no such practice as that disclosed by this record
shall send any accused to his death."
Chambers v. Florida, 309 U. S. 227
309 U. S.
The motion stated:
"That to require the Defendant to be tried on the charges which
have been preferred against him in the Parish of Calcasieu would be
a travesty of justice and would be a violation to the Defendant's
rights for a fair and impartial trial, which is guaranteed to every
person accused of having committed a crime by the Constitution of
the State of Louisiana and by the Constitution of the United
The Supreme Court of Louisiana summarized the event as
"[O]n the morning of February 17, 1961, the defendant was
interviewed by the sheriff, and the entire interview was filmed
(with a sound track) and shown to the audience of television
station KPLC-TV on three occasions. The showings occurred prior to
the arraignment of defendant on the murder charge. In this
interview, the accused admitted his part in the crime for which he
was later indicted."
242 La. at 447, 137 So. 2d at 289.
Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U. S. 335
"Q. Mr. Mazilly, you have been in police work roughly 21
"A. Yes, sir."
"Q. Were you in court yesterday at the time a sound on film
picture was shown to the court which had been shown on KPLC-TV
encompassing an interview between Sheriff Reid and Rideau?"
"A. I was."
"Q. In all of your 21 years, do you know of any similar case in
this parish or Southwest Louisiana where a man charged with a
capital crime was allowed -- that pictures were made of him and the
general public was shown the pictures and a sound track in which he
confessed to a capital crime?"
"A. No, sir."
MR. JUSTICE CLARK, with whom MR. JUSTICE HARLAN joins,
On the evening of February 16, 1961, the petitioner, Wilbert
Rideau, was arrested and confined in the Calcasieu Parish jail in
Lake Charles, Louisiana. The arrest
Page 373 U. S. 728
arose out of a bank robbery and a subsequent kidnapping and
homicide. On the night of his arrest, petitioner made detailed oral
and written confessions to the crimes, and, on the following
morning, a sound film was made of an interview between the sheriff
and petitioner in which he again admitted commission of the crimes.
The film was broadcast on a local television station on February
17, 18, and 19, 1961.
On March 3, 1961, petitioner was arraigned on charges of armed
robbery, kidnapping and murder. As required under the law of
Louisiana, he pleaded not guilty to the two capital crimes, but he
entered a plea of guilty to the charge of armed robbery. Counsel
were appointed immediately, and they requested permission to
withdraw the plea of guilty to armed robbery, which motion was
granted. They then filed a motion to quash, and the State was
required to elect under which count it wished to proceed. The State
elected the murder count, and the trial was set for April 10,
The defense moved for a change of venue, which was denied after
hearing. Thereupon, a jury was empaneled and petitioner was tried
and convicted of murder. The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed, and
this Court now reverses that judgment, holding that the denial of
petitioner's motion for change of venue was a deprivation of due
process of law. Having searched the Court's opinion and the record,
I am unable to find any deprivation of due process under the
Fourteenth Amendment, and I therefore dissent.
At the outset, two matters should be clearly established. First,
I do not believe it within the province of law enforcement officers
actively to cooperate in activities which tend to make more
difficult the achievement of impartial justice. Therefore, if this
case arose in a federal court, over which we exercise supervisory
powers, I would vote to reverse the judgment before us. Cf.
360 U. S.
Page 373 U. S. 729
United States, 360 U. S. 310
(1959). It goes without saying, however, that there is a very
significant difference between matters within the scope of our
supervisory power and matters which reach the level of
constitutional dimension. See, e.g., Stein v. New York,
346 U. S. 156
346 U. S. 187
(1953); Brown v. Allen, 344 U. S. 443
344 U. S. 476
Second, I agree fully with the Court that one is deprived of due
process of law when he is tried in an environment so permeated with
hostility that judicial proceedings can be "but a hollow
formality." This proposition, and my position with regard thereto,
are established in Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.
(1961). At this point, I must part company with
the Court, however, not so much because it deviates from the
principles established in Irvin,
but because it applies no
principles at all. It simply stops at this point, without
establishing any substantial nexus between the televised
"interview" and petitioner's trial, which occurred almost two
months later. Unless the adverse publicity is shown by the record
to have fatally infected the trial, there is simply no basis for
the Court's inference that the publicity, epitomized by the
televised interview, called up some informal and illicit analogy to
making petitioner's trial a meaningless
formality. See Beck v. Washington, 369 U.
That the Court apparently does not realize the necessity of
establishing this nexus is illustrated by its reliance on Brown
v. Mississippi, 297 U. S. 278
(1936). That case and its progeny *
stand for the
proposition that one may not constitutionally be convicted of a
crime upon evidence including a confession involuntarily made.
There can be no more clear nexus between the action of state
officials before trial and the trial itself than when the results
of that action are admitted in evidence at the
Page 373 U. S. 730
trial. Here, of course, neither the filmed interview nor any
transcript of it was shown or read to the jury. While the oral and
written confessions made on the night of the arrest were admitted
in evidence, the only argument for their exclusion made by the
petitioner is that they were obtained at an interrogation when he
had not been advised of his right to counsel and did not have
counsel present. That argument is clearly answered by our decisions
in Cicenia v. Lagay, 357 U. S. 504
(1958), and Crooker v. California, 357 U.
The fact that the adverse publicity was not evidence in the case
is not controlling, however, for we have recognized that such
matter may, in unusual circumstances, fatally infect a trial when
it enters the courtroom indelibly imbedded in the minds of the
jurors. We found such a situation in Irvin v. Dowd, supra,
where the continuous wave of publicity concerning the offense and
the past record of the petitioner so permeated the area where he
was tried that
"[a]n examination of the 2,783-page voir dire
shows that 370 prospective jurors, or almost 90% of those examined
on the point . . . , entertained some opinion as to guilt --
ranging in intensity from mere suspicion to absolute certainty. A
number admitted that, if they were in the accused's place in the
dock and he in theirs on the jury with their opinions, they would
not want him on a jury."
366 U.S. at 366 U. S.
More important, of the 12 jurors finally placed in the jury box,
eight thought petitioner Irvin to be guilty. In view of those
circumstances, we unanimously reversed the judgment in that case,
with the caveat that
"It is not required, however, that the jurors be totally
ignorant of the facts and issues involved. In these days of swift,
widespread and diverse methods of communication, an important case
can be expected
Page 373 U. S. 731
to arouse the interest of the public in the vicinity, and
scarcely any of those best qualified to serve as jurors will not
have formed some impression or opinion as to the merits of the
case. This is particularly true in criminal cases. To hold that the
mere existence of any preconceived notion as to the guilt or
innocence of an accused, without more, is sufficient to rebut the
presumption of a prospective juror's impartiality would be to
establish an impossible standard."
Id. at 366 U. S.
Thus, in Irvin,
because of the complete permeation,
imbedding opinions of guilt in the minds of 90% of the veniremen
and two-thirds of the actual jury, we held that petitioner had been
deprived of his constitutional right to an impartial tribunal.
Compare Beck v. Washington, supra.
We now face the
question whether this is such a situation, and, for that
determination, we must examine the publicity involved, the hearing
on the motion for change of venue and the record of the voir
Initially, we face an obstacle in determining the pervasiveness
of the televised interview, since the circulation of a television
program is less susceptible of determination than that of a
newspaper. The figures quoted by the Court as representing the
number of people who "saw and heard" the interview were given by
the Program Director of the television station, and represented the
typical number of viewers at the times when the interview was
broadcast, as determined by a rating service which had conducted a
sampling some months previous to the broadcasts. The Director
testified that those figures represented "an approximate number,
and, as I say, there is no way you can prove this, because
communications is an intangible business. . . ." Of course,
the accuracy of the figures given, there
is no way of determining
Page 373 U. S. 732
whether those figures are mutually inclusive or whether they
represent different viewers on the different occasions. The record
does give a more tangible indication of the effect of the
publicity, however, in the hearing on the motion for change of
venue. At that hearing, five witnesses testified that, in their
opinions, petitioner could not get a fair trial in the parish.
Twenty-four witnesses testified that, in their opinions, petitioner
could get a fair trial, and a stipulation was entered that five
more witnesses would testify that he could get a fair trial in the
The most crucial evidence relates to the composition of the
12-man jury. Of the 12 members of the panel, only three had seen
the televised interview, which had been shown almost two months
before the trial. The petitioner does not assert, and the record
does not show, that these three testified to holding opinions of
petitioner's guilt. They did testify, however, that they
"could lay aside any opinion, give the defendant the presumption
of innocence as provided by law, base their decision solely upon
the evidence, and apply the law as given by the court. As the judge
stated in his per curiam: 'They testified they could do so
notwithstanding anything they may have heard, seen or read of the
242 La. 431, 462, 137 So. 2d
Further, two members of the jury held honorary Deputy Sheriff's
commissions from the Sheriff's department. Neither of these men was
in any way connected with the department as a deputy, neither had
ever made any arrests, and neither had ever received any pay from
the department. They both testified that they used the honorary
commissions only for their convenience. They testified that these
honorary commissions would not affect their ability to serve as
jurors in any way, and the trial
Page 373 U. S. 733
judge concluded that this tenuous relationship with the State
did not destroy their qualifications to serve. Cf. Frazier v.
United States, 335 U. S. 497
(1948); United States v. Wood, 299 U.
The right to a trial before a fair and impartial tribunal "is a
basic requirement of due process," In re Murchison,
349 U. S. 133
349 U. S. 136
(1955), and must be safeguarded with vigilance. As we recognized in
however, it is an impossible standard to require
that tribunal to be a laboratory, completely sterilized and freed
from any external factors. The determination of impartiality, in
which demeanor plays such an important part, is particularly within
the province of the trial judge. And when the jurors testify that
they can discount the influence of external factors and meet the
standard imposed by the Fourteenth Amendment, that assurance is not
lightly to be discarded. When the circumstances are unusually
compelling, as in Irvin,
the assurances may be discarded,
"it is not asking too much that the burden of showing essential
unfairness be sustained by him who claims such injustice and seeks
to have the result set aside. . . ."
Adams v. United States ex rel. McCann, 317 U.
, 317 U. S. 281
(1942). Since the petitioner clearly has not met that burden, I
would affirm the judgment before us.
Ritz, Twenty-five Years of State Criminal
Confession Cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, 19 Wash. & Lee
L.Rev. 35 (1962).