Davis v. Mississippi

RESPONDENT: Mississippi
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Mobile County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 394 US 721 (1969)
ARGUED: Feb 26, 1969 / Feb 27, 1969
DECIDED: Apr 22, 1969

Facts of the case


Media for Davis v. Mississippi

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1969 in Davis v. Mississippi

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 26, 1969 in Davis v. Mississippi

Earl Warren:

Number 645, John Davis, petitioner versus Mississippi.

Mr. Zarr.

Melvyn Zarr:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here in writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Mississippi to review petitioner's criminal conviction.

Petitioner John Davis, a 14-year old Negro boy was convicted of raping an 86-year old white woman for whom he had done yard work and he as sentence to life imprisonment.

This Court granted the petitioner's petition for writ of certiorari and forms a purpose to consider whether the police conduct evidence by this case contriving in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States, and if so, whether the product of that illegal police conduct, petitioner's fingerprints was properly admitted into evidence at petitioner's trial.

Briefly, the facts of this, starting December 3, 1965, the police of Meridian, Mississippi took into custody for investigation some 65 to 70 Negro boys.

Now, what they were investigating was a complaint of rape by an 86-year old white woman, who had reported to the police that she had been attacked in her home by a Negro youth on the evening of December 2nd, apparently around seven o'clock.

The nature of her description is uncertain but its quality can be inferred from the number of suspects that appeared to cover.

Two partial fingerprints had been found on the outside of a window and a partial palm print that's been found in the inside window sill.

On this basis, they drag had begun.

The petitioner, a 14-year old Negro boy, who had done yard work for the woman was one of the 65 to 70 Negro boys taken into custody.

The petitioner was taken to the police headquarters on December 3rd, questioned, fingerprinted and released.

The others apparently went to a similar procedure.

Now, it's quite clear from the record that there was no warrant for petitioner's detention.


The reason is best capsulized in respondent's brief at page 2 in these terms, I'd like to quote it, “that none of the 65 or 70 who are interrogated or picked up were suspects but were only interrogated and printed by the police in an effort to get leads to establish probable cause to arrest the guilty party.”

That was on page 2 of the respondent's brief.

Now, at that December 3rd detention, which was the petitioner's first detention, he was fingerprinted and those sets I shall refer to as the first set.

They were never analyzed nor introduced in evidence and nothing further has been heard of them.

Now, between December 3rd and 7th, he was taken into custody in the words of the police juvenile Officer Keller about four or five times.

Officer Keller testified that he was picked up in an attempt to get leads, those are his words, and on at least one occasion the petitioner was taken to the hospital and exhibited to the prosecutor for a “gage to go by on size and color.”

However, there was apparently no positive identification even though the record is clear that the petitioner had done some yard work for her recently as two weeks before.

The last detention from which the fingerprints that were introduced in the evidence is second set was green was on -- begin on December 12th, again without a warrant.

He was driven to Jackson having been picked up by Officer Keller and Chief Bedingfield, kept overnight to the Jackson jail, given a lie detector test the following day and return to the Meridian jail.

On December 14th, this second set was taken and sent off to the FBI laboratory in Washington together with the prints of approximately 23 of Negro boys who were still under suspicion at that time.

On December 14th, all the record does not show that he was charged with juvenile delinquency for breaking into the woman's home.

Three days later, his case was certified by the juvenile judge after hearing to the Circuit Court of Lauderdale County, in which Court he was indicted and tried.

Potter Stewart:

What was the -- it was the breaking into the woman's home the same -- the same -- part of the same offense --

Melvyn Zarr:

Yes sir.