Berghuis v. Smith

PETITIONER: Mary Berghuis, Warden
RESPONDENT: Diapolis Smith
LOCATION: 17th Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 08-1402
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2009-2010)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 559 US 314 (2010)
GRANTED: Sep 30, 2009
ARGUED: Jan 20, 2010
DECIDED: Mar 30, 2010

B. Eric Restuccia - for the petitioner
James Sterling Lawrence - for the respondent

Facts of the case

A Michigan state court convicted Diapolis Smith of second degree murder and felony possession of a firearm and sentenced him to life in prison. After exhausting his remedies in the Michigan state courts, Smith petitioned for habeas corpus relief in a Michigan federal district court. The district court denied the petition. On appeal, Smith argued that he was denied an impartial jury from a fair cross-section of the community in violation of the Sixth Amendment.

The Sixth Circuit held that the Michigan Supreme Court unreasonably applied federal law in concluding that county jury selection "worked no systematic exclusion." The Court reasoned the state trial court's policy of excusing potential jurors for whom jury duty would constitute hardship based on child care concerns or transportation issues, when viewed together with another policy that assigned prospective jurors from the county's only large city, established a prima facie case of systematic under-representation of African- American jurors.


Did the Sixth Circuit err in holding that the Michigan Supreme Court failed to apply clearly established U.S. Supreme Court precedent for evaluating whether the jury was comprised of a fair cross-section of the community?

Media for Berghuis v. Smith

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 20, 2010 in Berghuis v. Smith

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 30, 2010 in Berghuis v. Smith

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Ginsburg has our opinion this morning in case 08-1402, Berghuis versus Smith.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

The Sixth Amendment secures to persons charged with crime, the right to be tried by an impartial jury drawn from sources reflecting a fair cross section on the community.

The question presented in this case was that right accorded to responding Diapolis Smith, an African-American convicted of second degree murder by an all white jury in Kent County, Michigan in 1993.

In Duren v. Missouri a 1979 decision, this Court described three showings essential to prove a violation of the Sixth Amendments fair cross section requirement.

A defendant must show that a group qualifying as ‘distinctive’ is not fairly represented in jury pools and that the under-representation is due to systematic exclusion in the jury selection process.

The defendant in Duren readily met all three measures.

He complained of the dearth of women in the Jackson County Missouri jury pool.

Women 54% of the jury eligible population, but only 14.5% of those in the pool from which jurors withdrawn.

Identifying the systematic cause of the under-representation, Duren pointed to Missouri's law exempting all women from mandatory jury service and to the manner in which Jackson County administered the exemption.

We have reviewed the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, holding that Smith satisfied the criteria established by Duren and granting him Habeas Corpus relief.

The disparity in smith’s case was not so dramatic as in Duren.

At the time of Smith’s trial African-Americans were 7.28% of the County’s jury eligible population and 6% of the pool from which jurors were drawn.

Warranting heavyweight, the Supreme Court of Michigan in a cogent decision had held that Smith’s evidence failed to prove systematic exclusion.

Relevant to our appraisal in 1996 in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Congress placed tight constraints on federal Habeas review of state court convictions.

Nevertheless the Sixth Circuit found the matter settled, a decision contrary to its own that's what it said would involve an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law.

We reverse the Sixth Circuit’s judgment.

No decision of this Court clearly establishes Smith’s entitlement to Federal Court relief.

The Sixth Circuit featured Kent County’s practice of assigning prospective jurors first to local district boards.

Only after local needs were filled did a county assign persons remaining on the master list to the countywide circuit court, the sole court competent to hear felony cases like Smith’s.

The Michigan Supreme Court however had rejected Smith’s principle plea for lack of proof that the assignment procedure in fact posed significant under-representation.

As that determination was not at all unreasonable the Sixth Circuit had no warrant to disturb it.

Smith also urged that a host of factors combined to reduce systematically the number of African-Americans appearing on Kent County jury list, for example, Kent County’s practice of executing people without adequate proof of alleged hardship and the refusal of Kent County police to enforce court orders for prospective jurors to appear.

This Court it suffices to observe has never held or even hinted that a bare cross section claim can be grounded in generally applied jury selection process features of the kind Smith lists.

Our decision reversing the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is unanimous.

Justice Thomas has also filed a concurring opinion.