SMITH V. PHILLIPS, 455 U. S. 209 (1982)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209 (1982)

Smith v. Phillips

No. 80-1082

Argued November 9, 1981

Decided January 25, 1982

455 U.S. 209


After being convicted of murder at a jury trial in a New York court, respondent moved to vacate his conviction on the ground that a juror in his case submitted during the trial an application for employment as an investigator in the District Attorney's Office, and that the prosecuting attorneys, upon being informed of the juror's application, withheld the information from the trial court and respondent's defense counsel until after the trial. At a hearing on the motion before the same judge who had presided at the trial, the motion was denied, the judge finding "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the events giving rise to the motion did not influence the verdict. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, and the New York Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal. Subsequently, respondent sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, alleging that he had been denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment by the conduct of the juror in question. While finding insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the juror was actually biased, the District Court nevertheless imputed bias to him and, accordingly, ordered respondent released unless the State granted him a new trial. The United States Court of Appeals, without considering whether the juror was actually or impliedly biased, affirmed on the ground that the prosecutors' failure to disclose their knowledge about the juror denied respondent due process.

Held: Respondent was not denied due process of law either by the juror's conduct or by the prosecutors' failure to disclose the juror's job application. Pp. 455 U. S. 215-221.

(a) Due process does not require a new trial every time a juror has been placed in a potentially compromising situation. Due process means a jury capable and willing to decide the case solely on the evidence before it, and a trial judge ever watchful to prevent prejudicial occurrences and to determine the effect of such occurrences when they happen. Such determinations may properly be made at a hearing like that held in this case. Remmer v. United States, 347 U. S. 227. Moreover, this being a federal habeas action, the state trial judge's findings are presumptively correct under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Federal courts in such proceedings must not disturb the state courts' findings unless the federal habeas

Page 455 U. S. 210

court articulates some basis for disarming such findings of the statutory presumption that they are correct and may be overcome only by Convincing evidence. Here, neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals took issue with the state trial judge's findings. Pp. 455 U. S. 215-218.

(b) The touchstone of due process analysis in cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct is the fairness of the trial, not the culpability of the prosecutor. Here, the prosecutors' failure to disclose the juror's job application, although requiring a post-trial hearing on juror bias, did not deprive respondent of the fair trial guaranteed by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 455 U. S. 218-221.

(c) Absent a violation of some right guaranteed respondent by the Fourteenth Amendment, it was error for the lower courts to order a new trial. Federal courts hold no supervisory authority over state judicial proceedings, and may intervene only to correct wrongs of constitutional dimension. P. 455 U. S. 221.

632 F.2d 1019, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 455 U. S. 221. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 455 U. S. 224.

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