Adams v. Texas

LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division

DOCKET NO.: 79-5175
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Texas Court of Criminal Appeals

CITATION: 448 US 38 (1980)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 25, 1980

Douglas M. Becker - on behalf of the Respondent
Melvyn Carson Bruder - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Adams v. Texas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1980 in Adams v. Texas

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear argument next in Adams v. Texas.

Mr. Bruder, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Melvyn Carson Bruder:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

We are dealing in this case with the right of a state to exclude prospective jurors from a capital case solely because of their attitudes or feelings about the death penalty.

By statute, that is section 1231(b) of the Texas Penal Code, Texas in our opinion has impermissibly broadened the base of exclusion beyond the parameters established by the Witherspoon doctrine.

And to the extent that Witherspoon does not allow the exclusion of any juror because of personal feelings about the death penalty, unless there is unmistakable irrevocable commission on the part of the prospective juror to vote against death, 1231(b) impedes upon Witherspoon to the extent that it allows the exclusion of the juror for a reason less than that described in Witherspoon.

As proof of our position, we submit that any time a juror is qualified under Witherspoon and says I can in a proper case and under the right circumstances vote death, whenever such a juror is excluded under state law solely because of the juror's feelings about capital punishment, the juror is excluded on a broader basis than provided in Witherspoon.

Warren E. Burger:

You are suggesting that there is a gray zone of some kind here where a juror, a prospective juror might be influenced by the fact that the death penalty was involved or, on the other hand, might not be?

Melvyn Carson Bruder:

I'm suggesting that as long as the juror is willing to state "I can vote death in the right case," that juror is qualified vis-a-vis his feelings about the death penalty.

Warren E. Burger:

By the right case, taking that phrase, does that mean the right case as he sees it or the right case as within the framework of the instructions of the court?

Melvyn Carson Bruder:

It means the right case under the evidence within the framework of the instructions given by the court and as he views the facts, because he is a personal representative of the community and it is he who must express the community conscience.

And under the guarded jury discretions, that is specifically provided for under the Texas capital punishment scheme.

The jury has the discretion to utilize what evidence and facts is made available, and by answering the three questions, knowing what the effect of those answers explicitly is, the jury exercises that community conscience.

Thus, Witherspoon requires that that base defined in Witherspoon apply to jury selection in the state of Texas.

Now, the state has constructed a theoretical model upon which it hopes to convince this Court that 1231(b) stands for a proposition that even the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has disowned.

The state argues and agrees with us that Witherspoon does apply in Texas.

I take that to dispose of question number one under the grant of cert.

So we go to the next question, and the state argues that Witherspoon is not violated in this case and theoretically in any other case in Texas because the real purpose of 1231(b) is to exclude those jurors who are affected to the extent that they will allow their personal feelings to influence their vote, and that is not what 1231(b) says and that is not what the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has construed 1231(b) to say.

In fact, the Court of Criminal Appeals has said just the opposite.

A juror who states under oath "I will answer the questions honestly, I will answer the three punishment questions truthfully, I will put aside whatever reservations I may have about capital punishment when I answer those three questions," that does not rehabilitate a prospective juror who has already said "I will be affected by the existence of the death penalty in this case."

So clearly the Court of Criminal Appeals has rejected what this Court suggested could exist in Lockett v. Ohio, that is that it is fair to excuse from jury service any prospective juror who says "I can't follow the law," and Witherspoon pretty much said the same thing.

Warren E. Burger:

How do you apply that to Juror White who was examined in the appendix at the upper pages, 20, 25, 27, somewhere in there?

Melvyn Carson Bruder:

Juror White specifically qualified under Witherspoon on page 26 in our opinion.

He was then asked on page 27, "May I from your answers -- are you saying that this mandatory sentence of death or life would affect your deliberations on the issues of fact in the case including those three questions" -- "Yes, sir."

And then if you go on to pages 28 and 29 --

Warren E. Burger:

Didn't he have a little more there?

Juror White said, "I think I believe in capital punishment, but I don't want to have anything to do with it.

Is that clear?"

Those are all his words.

Melvyn Carson Bruder:

Yes, that's correct.