IRVIN V. DOWD, 366 U. S. 717 (1960)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717 (1960)

Irvin v. Dowd

No. 41

Argued November 9, 1960

Decided June 5, 1961

366 U.S. 717


Petitioner was tried in an Indiana State Court, convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. Six murders had been committed in the vicinity of Evansville, Ind., and they were extensively covered by news media in the locality, which aroused great excitement and indignation throughout Vanderburgh County, where Evansville is located, and adjoining Gibson County. Shortly after petitioner was arrested, the Prosecutor of Vanderburgh County and Evansville police officials issued press releases, which were intensively publicized, stating that petitioner had confessed to the six murders. When petitioner was indicted in Vanderburgh County, counsel appointed to defend him immediately sought a change of venue, which was granted, but to adjoining Gibson County. Alleging that the widespread and inflammatory publicity had also highly prejudiced the inhabitants of Gibson County against petitioner, his counsel sought a change of venue from that County to a county sufficiently removed from the Evansville locality to permit an unprejudiced and fair trial; but this was denied. At the trial, the jury panel consisted of 430 persons; 268 of these were excused for cause as having fixed opinions as to the guilt of petitioner, and 8 of the 12 who finally served on the jury admitted that they thought petitioner was guilty, but each indicated that, notwithstanding his opinion, he could render an impartial verdict. After petitioner's conviction had been sustained by the State Supreme Court, he applied to a Federal District Court for a writ of habeas corpus, which was denied.

Held: Petitioner was not accorded a fair and impartial trial, to which he was entitled under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; his conviction is void; the judgment denying habeas corpus is vacated, and the case is remanded to the District Court for further proceedings affording the State a reasonable time to retry petitioner. Pp. 366 U. S. 718-729.

(a) Since the State Supreme Court has held that, where an attempt has been made to secure an impartial jury by a change in venue, but it appears that such a jury could not be obtained in the

Page 366 U. S. 718

county to which the venue was changed, it is the duty of the court to grant a second change of venue in order to afford the accused a trial by an impartial jury, a state statute purporting to permit only one change of venue is not, on its face, subject to attack on due process grounds. Pp. 366 U. S. 720-721.

(b) Failure of a State to accord a fair hearing to one accused of a crime violates the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and a trial by jury is not fair unless the jury is impartial. Pp. 366 U. S. 721-722.

(c) In the circumstances of this case, it was the duty of the Federal Court of Appeals to evaluate independently the voir dire testimony of the impaneled jurors. Pp. 366 U. S. 722-723.

(d) On the record in this case, it cannot be said that petitioner was accorded a fair trial by an impartial jury. Pp. 366 U. S. 723-728.

(e) Petitioner is entitled to be freed from detention and sentence of death pursuant to the void judgment; but he is still subject to custody under the indictment; he may be retried under this or another indictment, and the District Court should allow the State a reasonable time in which to retry him. Pp. 366 U. S. 728-729.

271 F.2d 552, judgment vacated and cause remanded.

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