BURCH V. LOUISIANA, 441 U. S. 130 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Burch v. Louisiana, 441 U.S. 130 (1979)

Burch v. Louisiana

No. 78-90

Argued February 22, 1979

Decided April 17, 1979

441 U.S. 130


Held: A conviction by a nonunanimous six-person jury in a state criminal trial for a nonpetty offense, as contemplated by provisions of the Louisiana Constitution and Code of Criminal Procedure that permit a conviction by five out of the six jurors, violates the right of an accused to trial by jury guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 441 U. S. 134-139.

(a) Lines must be drawn somewhere if the substance of the jury trial right is to be preserved, and while this line-drawing process "cannot be wholly satisfactory, for it requires attaching different consequences to events which, when they lie near the line, actually differ very little," Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 391 U. S. 161, conviction for a nonpetty offense by only five members of a six-person jury presents a threat to preservation of the substance of the jury trial guarantee and justifies requiring verdicts rendered by such juries to be unanimous. Cf. Ballew v. Georgia, 435 U. S. 223. Pp. 441 U. S. 137-138.

(b) The near-uniform judgment of those States utilizing six-member juries in trials of nonpetty offenses that the verdict must be unanimous to convict, provides a useful guide in delimiting the line between those jury practices that are constitutionally permissible and those that are not. P. 441 U. S. 138.

(c) The State's substantial interest in reducing the time and expense associated with the administration of its system of criminal justice is insufficient justification for its use of nonunanimous six-person juries. Any benefits that might accrue from the use of such juries, as compared with requiring unanimity, are speculative, at best, and, more importantly, when a State has reduced the size of its juries to the minimum number permitted by the Constitution, the additional authorization of nonunanimous verdicts sufficiently threatens the constitutional principles establishing the size threshold that any countervailing interest of the State should yield. Pp. 441 U. S. 138-139.

360 So.2d 831, reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 441 U. S. 139. BRENNAN, .J., filed

Page 441 U. S. 131

an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which STEWART and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 441 U. S. 140.

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