Swain v. Alabama

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380 U.S. 202 (1964)


Petitioner, a Negro, was indicted and convicted of rape in the Circuit Court of Talladega County, Alabama, and sentenced to death. Of those in the county eligible for jury selection for grand and petit juries 26% are Negroes, while the jury panels since 1953 have averaged 10% to 15% Negroes. In this case there were four or five Negroes on the grand jury panel and two served on the grand jury. Although petit jury venires in criminal cases include an average of six to seven Negroes, no Negro has served on a petit jury in the county since about 1950. Here of the eight Negroes on the venire, two were exempt and six were peremptorily struck by the prosecutor. Petitioner's motions to quash the indictment, to strike the trial jury venire, and to void the trial jury, all based on discrimination in the selection of jurors, were denied and his conviction was affirmed by the Alabama Supreme Court. Held:

1. A defendant in a criminal case is not constitutionally entitled to a proportionate number of his race on the trial jury or the jury panel.

2. Purposeful racial discrimination is not satisfactorily established by showing only that an identifiable group has been underrepresented by as much as 10%.

3. There is no evidence in this case that the jury commissioners applied different jury selection standards as between Negroes and whites.

4. An imperfect system of selection of jury panels is not equivalent to purposeful racial discrimination.

5. The prosecutor's striking of Negroes from the jury panel in one particular case under the peremptory challenge system, which permits a challenge without a reason stated, does not constitute denial of equal protection of the laws.

6. Even if a State's systematic striking of Negroes in selecting trial juries raises a prima facie case of discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment the record here is insufficient to establish such systematic striking in the county.

(a) Petitioner has the burden of proof and he has failed to meet it.

(b) Total exclusion of Negroes from venires by state officials creates an inference of discrimination, but this rule of proof cannot be applied where it is not shown that the State is responsible for the exclusion of Negroes through peremptory challenges.