TURNER V. MURRAY, 476 U. S. 28 (1986)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Turner v. Murray, 476 U.S. 28 (1986)

Turner v. Murray

No. 84-6646

Argued December 12, 1985

Decided April 30, 1986

476 U.S. 28


Petitioner, a black man, was indicted in Virginia on charges of capital murder for fatally shooting the white proprietor of a jewelry store in the course of a robbery. During voir dire, the state trial judge refused petitioner's request to question the prospective jurors on racial prejudice. The jury convicted petitioner, and, after a separate sentencing hearing, recommended that he be sentenced to death, a recommendation the trial judge accepted. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the death sentence, rejecting petitioner's argument that the trial judge deprived him of a fair trial by refusing to question the prospective jurors on racial prejudice. Petitioner then sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, which rejected the same argument and denied relief, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

753 F.2d 342, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and III, concluding that a defendant accused of an interracial capital crime is entitled to have prospective jurors informed of the victim's race and questioned on the issue of racial bias. This rule is minimally intrusive. As in other cases involving "special circumstances," the trial judge retains discretion as to the form and number of questions, including whether to question the venire individually or collectively. Also, a defendant cannot complain of a failure to question the venire on racial prejudice unless he has specifically requested such an inquiry. Pp. 476 U. S. 29-33, 476 U. S. 36-37.


(1) The risk that racial prejudice may have infected petitioner's capital sentencing is unacceptable in light of the ease with which that risk, being especially serious in view of the finality of the death sentence, could have been minimized. Ristaino v. Ross, 424 U. S. 589, distinguished. Pp. 476 U. S. 33-36.

(2) While it is not necessary that petitioner be retried on the issue of guilt, there was an unacceptable risk of racial prejudice infecting the capital sentencing proceeding, and the inadequacy of the voir dire requires

Page 476 U. S. 29

that his death sentence be vacated. This unacceptable risk arose from the conjunction of three factors: the fact that the crime charged involved interracial violence, the broad discretion given the jury under Virginia law at the sentencing hearing, and the special seriousness of the risk of improper sentencing in a capital case. Pp. 476 U. S. 37-38.

WHITE, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I and III, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and IV, in which BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,concurred in the judgment. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 476 U. S. 38. MARSHALL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 476 U. S. 45. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 476 U. S. 45.

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