ROSE V. MITCHELL, 443 U. S. 545 (1979)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Rose v. Mitchell, 443 U.S. 545 (1979)

Rose v. Mitchell

No. 77-1701

Argued January 16, 1979

Decided July 2, 1979

443 U.S. 545


Respondents, who are Negroes, were indicted by a county grand jury in Tennessee for murder. They filed a plea in abatement seeking dismissal of the indictment on the ground, inter alia, that the foreman of the grand jury had been selected in a racially At a hearing on this plea, respondents called as witnesses 3 jury commissioners who testified only as to the selection of the grand jury venire; 2 former foremen who testified that they had never known of a Negro foreman, but were not questioned as to how long they had resided in the county; the current foreman, who stated he had no knowledge as to whether any Negro had ever served; and 11 of the 12 grand jurors (other than the foreman) who served when respondents were indicted, none of whom testified relative to selection of the foreman or the race of past foremen. The trial court denied the plea. Subsequently, respondents were convicted, and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Respondents then filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, which dismissed the petition, finding that respondents' prima facie case of discrimination in selecting the grand jury foreman was rebutted by the State. The Court of Appeals reversed.


1. Claims of racial discrimination in the selection of members of a state grand jury are cognizable in federal habeas corpus and will support issuance of a writ setting aside a conviction and ordering the indictment quashed, notwithstanding that no constitutional impropriety tainted the selection of the petit jury and guilt was established beyond a reasonable doubt at a trial free from constitutional error. Pp. 443 U. S. 550-564.

(a) Because discrimination on the basis of race in the selection of members of a grand jury strikes at fundamental values of our judicial system and our society as a whole, a criminal defendant's right to equal protection of the laws is denied when he is indicted by a grand jury from which members of a racial group have been purposefully excluded. Pp. 443 U. S. 551-557.

(b) Such costs as exist in permitting a federal court to hear claims of racial discrimination in the selection of a grand jury when reviewing

Page 443 U. S. 546

a state conviction are outweighed by the recognized policy of combatting racial discrimination in the administration of justice. Even though there are alternative remedies to vindicate the rights of those members of the class denied the chance to serve on grand juries, the fact is that permitting challenges to unconstitutional state action by defendants has been, and is, the main avenue by which Fourteenth Amendment rights are vindicated in this context. Pp. 443 U. S. 557-559.

(c) The rationale of Stone v. Powell, 428 U. S. 465, in which it was held that, where the State has provided an opportunity for full and fair litigation of a Fourth Amendment claim at trial and on direct review, a state prisoner may not be granted federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that evidence obtained through an unconstitutional search and seizure was introduced at his trial, will not be extended to a claim of discrimination in the selection of the grand jury that indicts the habeas petitioner. This latter claim differs fundamentally from application on habeas of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule. Such a claim concerns allegations that the trial court itself violated the Fourteenth Amendment in the operation of the grand jury system, whereas in Fourth Amendment cases, courts are called upon to evaluate the actions of the police in seizing evidence. Moreover, a claim of grand jury discrimination involves charges that state officials are violating the direct command of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and federal statutes passed thereunder, that "[n]o State shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Federal habeas review is necessary to ensure that constitutional defects in the state judiciary's grand jury selection procedure are not overlooked by the very state judges who operate that system. Pp. 443 U. S. 559-564.

2. As a matter of law, respondents failed to make out a prima facie case of discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause with regard to the selection of the grand jury foreman. Respondents' case rested entirely on the testimony of the two former foremen and the current foreman, since they were the only ones who testified at all about the selection of a foreman, and their testimony was insufficient to establish respondents' case. Absent evidence as to the total number of foremen appointed by the judges in the county during the critical period of time, it is difficult to say that the number of Negroes appointed foreman, even if zero, is statistically so significant as to make out a case of discrimination under the "rule of exclusion." Pp. 443 U. S. 564-574.

570 F.2d 129, reversed and remanded.

Page 443 U. S. 547

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined; in Parts I, III, and IV of which BURGER, C.J.,and REHNQUIST, J., joined; and in Parts I and II of which WHITE and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, J., filed a statement concurring in part, post, p. 443 U. S. 574. STEWART, J., post, p. 443 U. S. 574, and POWELL, J., post, p. 443 U. S. 579, filed opinions concurring in the judgment, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 443 U. S. 588. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 443 U. S. 593.

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