473 U.S. 913 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

DAVIS v. FLORIDA , 473 U.S. 913 (1985)

473 U.S. 913

Allen Lee DAVIS
No. 84-6520

Supreme Court of the United States

July 1, 1985

On Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Florida.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BRENNAN joins, dissenting.

Petitioner was charged with the brutal beating and shooting of a woman and her two young daughters in Duval County, Florida. The murders and petitioner's arrest were the subject of enormous pretrial publicity in the Duval County area. The major local newspapers carried numerous stories on the crime and the details of petitioner's arrest, and many minutes of prime-time news coverage were devoted to the subject. Among the specific and prejudicial facts disclosed by this pretrial publicity were that petitioner had failed a lie detector test, that he had a history of violent crime, that he was on parole at the time of his arrest, that he had admitted being in the victim's home around the time of the murders, and that particular pieces of evidence appeared to link petitioner to the crimes.

Based on the substantial showing of prejudicial pretrial publicity he had made, petitioner moved for a change of venue. Attached to this motion were affidavits from 15 Duval County attorneys who believed the extent and nature of the pretrial publicity would make it impossible for petitioner to receive a fair and impartial jury in Duval County. Petitioner also moved for individual and sequestered voir dire, and the trial judge deferred ruling on the change-of-venue motion until after voir dire was completed. During voir dire, at least 10 of the 40 veniremen admitted having prior knowledge about the case. The trial judge, however, re-

Page 473 U.S. 913 , 914

fused to allow these jurors to be questioned individually and, as a result, defense counsel was precluded from learning the specific information they had heard or read. To have pursued such a line of questioning in front of the entire jury pool undoubtedly would have contaminated the remainder of the venire. After the group voir dire, the trial court denied the change- of-venue motion. Four of the veniremen who admitted to prior knowledge of the case ultimately sat on the jury that convicted petitioner and sentenced him to death.

Petitioner argues that the refusal to grant individual voir dire in the circumstances of this case violated his Sixth Amendment right to a fair and impartial jury. I recognize that "exposure to information about a state defendant's prior convictions or to news accounts of the crime with which he is charged [does not] alone presumptively depriv[e] the defendant of due process." Murphy v. Florida, 421 U.S. 794, 799, 2036 (1975). "It is sufficient if the juror can lay aside his impression or opinion and render a verdict based on the evidence presented in court." Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 723, 1643 (1961). The question here, however, is not whether the jury actually was biased against petitioner, but whether he was unconstitutionally deprived of the opportunity to uncover such bias and to exercise his for-cause challenges to root it out. The right to an impartial jury encompasses the right to take reasonable steps designed to insure that the jury is impartial. See, e.g., Groppi v. Wisconsin, 400 U.S. 505 (1971); Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333 (1966); Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308 (1931); see also Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524, 532, 853 (1973) ( opinion of MARSHALL, J.). Moreover, the informed exercise of jury challenges is an essential element in insuring jury impartiality. Indeed, the first Justice Harlan, speaking for a unanimous Court, called the right to challenge "one of the most important of the rights secured to the accused" and concluded that "[a]ny system for the empanelling of a jury that prevents or embarrasses the full, unrestricted exercise by the accused of that right, must be condemned." Pointer v. United States, 151 U.S. 396, 408, 414 (1894); see also Lewis v. United States, 146 U.S. 370, 376, 138 (1892); Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356, 379, 1642 (1972) (opinion of POWELL, J.).

This Court has not addressed whether, and upon what threshold showing, individual voir dire is constitutionally required to guarantee a defendant's right to "have sufficient information brought out on voir dire to enable him to exercise his challenges in a rea- [473 U.S. 913 , 915]

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