Swain v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 202 (1965)

In Swain v. Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed the question whether a conviction of a Negro by an all-white jury violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. At issue: did the state’s systematic exclusion of persons from juries solely on the basis of race and color constitute a denial of the equal protection of the laws under the Constitution? Robert Swain was convicted and sentenced to death for rape by an all-white Alabama jury. In a five-to-four decision, the Court ruled (1) a criminal defendant is not constitutionally entitled to a proportionate number of his race on the jury or on the pool of potential jurors; (2) a prosecutor’s use of preemptory challenges to exclude black jurors without cause was permissible, because the original intent of the challenge was to allow both the prosecution and the defense the opportunity to remove any juror regardless of race so as to constitute an impartial jury; (3) the fact that a Negro had never served on a criminal or civil jury in Talladega County was not indicative of invidious discrimination. Although the Court recognized that the exclusion of Negroes from this county was suspicious and subject to judicial scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment, the record was silent on whether the prosecutor alone was responsible for striking Negroes from the jury or whether defendants themselves invoked the preemptory challenge to exclude Negroes. This decision was overturned by the Court in Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).

RANDA CAROLYN ISSA

See also Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986); Equal Protection of Law (XIV); Jury Trial; Jury Trial Right; Race and Criminal Justice

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