U.S. Supreme Court
Patton v. Yount, 467 U.S. 1025 (1984)
Patton v. Yount
Argued February 28, 1984
Decided June 26, 1984
467 U.S. 1025
After a jury trial in a Pennsylvania state court in 1966, respondent was convicted of first-degree murder and rape, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. However, on direct appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that the police had violated respondent's constitutional rights in securing confessions that had been admitted in evidence, and remanded the case for a new trial. Before and during an extensive voir dire examination of potential jurors at the second trial in 1970, respondent moved for a change of venue, arguing that publicity concerning the case had resulted in dissemination of prejudicial information that could not be eradicated from the potential jurors' minds. The trial court denied the motions, and respondent was convicted again of first-degree murder. He was resentenced to life imprisonment, and the trial court denied a motion for a new trial, finding that practically no publicity had been given to the case between the two trials, that little public interest was shown during the second trial, and that the jury was without bias. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and the trial court's findings. Respondent then sought habeas corpus relief in Federal District Court, claiming that his conviction had been obtained in violation of his right under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to a fair trial by an impartial jury. Upholding the state trial court's view that the jury was impartial, the District Court denied relief, but the Court of Appeals reversed. Relying primarily on Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U. S. 717, the court found that pretrial publicity had made a fair trial impossible in the county.
1. The voir dire testimony and the record of publicity do not reveal the kind of "wave of public passion" that would have made a fair trial unlikely by the empaneled jury as a whole. Although Irvin v. Dowd, supra, held that adverse publicity can create such a presumption of prejudice in a community that the jurors' claims that they can be impartial should not be believed, it also recognized that the trial court's findings of impartiality may be overturned only for "manifest error." In this case, the extensive adverse publicity and the community's sense of outrage were at their height prior to respondent's first trial. The record shows that prejudicial publicity was greatly diminished and community sentiment chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
ment had softened when the jury for the second trial was selected four years later. Thus the trial court did not commit manifest error in finding that the jury as a whole was impartial. Potential jurors who had retained fixed opinions as to respondent's guilt were disqualified, and the fact that the great majority of veniremen "remembered the case," without more, is essentially irrelevant. The relevant question is whether the jurors at respondent's second trial had such fixed opinions that they could not judge impartially respondent's guilt. The passage of time between the first and second trials clearly rebutted any presumption of partiality or prejudice that existed at the time of the initial trial. Pp. 467 U. S. 1031-1035.
2. There is no merit in respondent's argument that one of the selected jurors, as well as the two alternates, had been erroneously seated over his challenges for cause. The ambiguity in the testimony of the cited jurors was insufficient to overcome the presumption of correctness, under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), owed to the trial court's findings. The question of an individual juror's partiality is plainly one of historical fact, and there is fair support in the record for the state courts' conclusion that the jurors here would be impartial. Pp. 467 U. S. 1036-1040.
710 F.2d 956, reversed.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 467 U. S. 1040. MARSHALL, J., took no part in the decision of the case.