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UNITED STATES V. WOOD, 299 U. S. 123 (1936)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Wood, 299 U.S. 123 (1936)

United States v. Wood

No. 34

Argued October 20, 1936

Decided December 7, 1936

299 U.S. 123


1. Bias of a prospective juror may be actual or implied -- i.e., bias in fact or bias conclusively presumed as a matter of law. P. 299 U. S. 133.

2. The Act of August 22, 1935, concerning qualifications of jurors in the District of Columbia, leaves all prospective jurors subject to examination and rejection for actual bias. Id.

3. In dealing with an employee of the Government, summoned to jury service in a criminal case, the court should be solicitous to discover whether, in view of the nature or circumstances of his employment, or of the relation of his particular governmental activity to the matters involved in the prosecution, he has actual bias. P 299 U. S. 134. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 299 U. S. 124

4. The provision of the Sixth Amendment declaring that, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury," does not imply that employees of the Government are absolutely and as a matter of law disqualified from sitting in criminal cases prosecuted by the Government, regardless of actual partiality. Pp. 299 U. S. 134, 299 U. S. 141.

5. By the English common law at the time of the adoption of the Sixth Amendment and long before, servants of the King were permitted to sit as jurors in crown cases, if free from actual bias. P. 299 U. S. 134.

6. In the absence of any settled practice under the English law establishing an absolute disqualification of governmental employees to serve as jurors in criminal cases, and in the absence of evidence that such a disqualification existed in the American Colonies or in the States at the time of the adoption of the Sixth Amendment, there is no ground for treating such a disqualification as embedded in that Amendment by the common law. Crawford v. United States, 121 U. S. 183, distinguished and in part disapproved. P. 299 U. S. 141.

7. The constitutional requirement of an impartial jury respects substance and essence. Impartiality is not a technical conception, but a state of mind. For the ascertainment of this mental attitude of the prospective juror, the Constitution lays down no particular tests, and procedure is not chained to any ancient and artificial formula, but is subject to regulation by Congress. Pp. 299 U. S. 141, 299 U. S. 145.

8. An absolute disqualification of governmental employees and pensioners to serve as jurors in criminal cases is not essential to the impartiality of the jury. P. 299 U. S. 147.

9. The Act of August 22, 1935, in qualifying governmental employees and pensioners for service as jurors to try criminal cases in the District of Columbia, subject to challenge for actual bias, is consistent with the Sixth Amendment and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 299 U. S. 147, 299 U. S. 151.


The respondent in this case was convicted of theft from the store of a private corporation in the District of Columbia. Three of the jurors who sat, notwithstanding challenges for cause, based upon the ground of interest in the United States Government, were the recipient of a Civil War pension and two clerks employed in the Treasury Department and the Navy Yard, respectively. There was no proof of actual bias.

65 App.D.C. 330, 83 F.2d 587, reversed. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 299 U. S. 125

Certiorari, 298 U.S. 652, to review a judgment reversing a conviction of theft in the District of Columbia. This Court reverses in turn and affirms the trial court. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 299 U. S. 130

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