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PIERRE v. LOUISIANA

decided: February 27, 1939.

PIERRE
v.
LOUISIANA



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA.

Hughes, McReynolds, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Black, Reed, Frankfurter

Author: Black

[ 306 U.S. Page 354]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Indicted for murder, petitioner, a member of the negro race, was convicted and sentenced to death in a state court of the Parish of St. John the Baptist, Louisiana.

[ 306 U.S. Page 355]

     The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed.*fn1 His petition for certiorari to review the Louisiana Supreme Court's judgment rested upon the grave claim -- earnestly, but unsuccessfully urged in both state courts -- that because of his race he had not been accorded the equal protection of the laws guaranteed to all races in all the States by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. For this reason, we granted certiorari.*fn2

The indictment against petitioner was returned January 18, 1937. He made timely motion to quash the indictment and the general venire from which had been drawn both the Grand Jury that returned the indictment and the Petit Jury for the week of his trial. His motion also prayed that the Grand Jury Panel and the Petit Jury Panel be quashed. This sworn motion alleged that petitioner was a negro and had been indicted for murder of a white man; that at least one-third of the population of the Parish from which the Grand and Petit Juries were drawn were members of the negro race, but the general venire had contained no names of negroes when the Grand Jury that indicted petitioner was drawn; that the state officers charged by law with the duty of providing names for the general venire had "deliberately excluded therefrom the names of any negroes qualified to serve as Grand or Petit Jurors, . . ." and had "systematically, unlawfully and unconstitutionally excluded negroes from the Grand or Petit Jury in said Parish" for at least twenty years "solely and only because of their race and color"; and that petitioner had thus been denied the equal protection of the laws guaranteed him by the Constitution of Louisiana and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

No pleadings denying these allegations appear in the record, and the State offered no witnesses on the motion.

[ 306 U.S. Page 356]

     Petitioner offered twelve witnesses who were questioned by his counsel, the State's Assistant District Attorney, and the court. On the basis of this evidence, the trial judge sustained the motion to quash the Petit Jury Panel and venire and subsequently ordered the box containing the general venire (from which both Grand and Petit Juries had been drawn) emptied, purged and refilled. This was done; a new Petit Jury Panel composed of both whites and negroes was subsequently drawn from the refilled Jury box and from this Panel a Petit Jury was selected which tried and convicted petitioner. Although the Grand Jury that indicted petitioner and the quashed Petit Jury Panel had been selected from the same original general venire*fn3 the trial judge overruled that part of petitioner's motion seeking to quash the Grand Jury Panel and the indictment.

First. The reason assigned by the trial judge for refusing to quash the Grand Jury Panel and indictment was that "the Constitutional rights of the defendant [are] . . . not affected by reason of the fact that persons of the Colored or African race are not placed on the Grand Jury, because . . . the mere presentment of an indictment is not evidence of guilt . . . it simply informs the Court

[ 306 U.S. Page 357]

     of a commission of a crime and brings the accused before the court for prosecution." But the bill of rights of the Louisiana Constitution (Dart, 1932, Art. 1, ยง 9) provides that "no person shall be held to answer for capital crime unless on a presentment or indictment by a grand jury, . . ." And the State concedes here, as the Supreme Court of Louisiana pointed out in its opinion in this case, that ". . . it is specially provided in the [Louisiana] law prescribing the method of drawing grand and petit jurors to serve in both civil and criminal cases that 'there shall be no distinction made on account of race, color or previous condition,'" and "If . . . [qualified] members of the negro . . . race . . . have been systematically excluded from . . . service in the parish of St. John, . . . solely because of their race or color, the indictment should have been quashed . . ." Exclusion from Grand or Petit Jury service on account of race is forbidden by the Fourteenth Amendment.*fn4 In addition to the safeguards of the Fourteenth Amendment, Congress has provided that "No citizen possessing all other qualifications . . . shall be disqualified for service as grand or petit juror in any court of the United States, or of any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude; . . ."*fn5 Petitioner does not here contend that Louisiana laws ...


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