Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
South Carolina law permits challenges for cause, and authorizes the trial judge to conduct voir dire examination of potential jurors. The state having created this statutory framework for the selection of juries, the essential fairness required by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment requires that under an African American petitioner be permitted to have the jurors interrogated on the issue of racial bias.
The petitioner, who was a young, bearded, South Carolina Negro civil rights worker, was convicted in a South Carolina state court of the possession of marihuana in violation of state law. Prior to the trial judge's voir dire examination of prospective jurors, the petitioner's counsel requested the judge to ask jurors four questions relating to possible prejudice against the petitioner. The first two questions sought to elicit any possible racial prejudice against Negroes; the third question related to possible prejudice against beards; and the fourth question dealt with pretrial publicity relating to the drug problem. Although the judge asked the prospective jurors three general questions as to bias, prejudice, or partiality, he declined to ask any of the four questions posed by the petitioner. On appeal, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the petitioner's conviction. After the state supreme court affirmed his conviction, petitioner sought a writ of certiorari.
After the petitioner’s timely request, was the trial judge required to make any inquiry as to the racial bias of the prospective jurors?
The Court held that the essential fairness required by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment required the trial judge to interrogate, or to permit counsel for the petitioner to interrogate, the jurors on the issue of racial bias, in view of counsel's timely request therefor; however, the trial judge was not required to ask such a question in any particular form, nor was he required to ask any particular number of questions on the subject of racial bias, simply because the petitioner had requested him to do so. Accordingly, the trial judge's refusal to inquire as to any particular bias a juror might have against beards, after his inquiries as to bias in general, did not violate the petitioner's constitutional rights. However, since the trial court refused to make any inquiry as to the racial bias of the prospective jurors after petitioner’s timely request, the judgment of the Supreme Court of South Carolina was reversed.