Duncan v. Louisiana Case Brief

Facts of the case

Gary Duncan, a black teenager in Louisiana, was found guilty of assaulting a white youth by allegedly slapping him on the elbow. Duncan was sentenced to 60 days in prison and fined $150. Duncan’s request for a jury trial was denied.

Why is the case important?

The Appellant, Gary Duncan (Appellant), was convicted of simple battery, a misdemeanor, in a Louisiana district court. Under Louisiana law, jury trials are not granted in misdemeanor cases. The Appellant claimed the state’s denial of trial by jury violated the United States Constitution (Constitution).

Question

Does a state law granting a jury trial only in cases where the penalty is capital punishment or imprisonment at hard labor violate the Constitution?

ANSWER

Yes, the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial is applicable to the States. The Supreme Court of the United States (Supreme Court) observed that a fundamental right to a jury trial exists in criminal cases punishable by up to two years in prison. The purpose of a jury trial is to protect defendants against overzealous or corrupt prosecutors and compliant, biased or eccentric judges. However, there is no problem with the integrity of those cases resolved without a trial. Thus, a constitutional problem does not exist with accepting waivers or prosecuting petty crimes with a bench trial instead of a jury trial. The reason for that is that judicial or prosecutorial unfairness is less likely. The controlling factor is the maximum possible sentence and not the sentence the judge actually imposes. Moreover, the court does not try to establish a bright line between petty and serious crimes.
Concurrence. Justice Hugo Black (J. Black) and Justice William Douglas (J. Douglas) concurred because they believed that the Fourteenth Amendment makes the entire Bill of Rights applicable to the States. The concurring justices do not think that the States should be able to experiment with protections provided by the Bill of Rights. They support “selective incorporation” because it keeps judges “from roaming at will regarding policies outside the Bill of Rights and has already made most of the Bill of Rights applicable to the States.”

CONCLUSION

The Court held that a crime punishable by two years in prison was a serious crime and not a petty offense. Consequently, defendant was entitled to a jury trial and the trial court erred in denying it. In so ruling, the Court opined that the right to trial by jury guaranteed defendants in criminal cases in federal courts by the U.S. Const. art. III and by the Sixth Amendment was also guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to defendants tried in state courts.

  • Advocates: –
  • Appellant: Duncan
  • Appellee: Louisiana
  • DECIDED BY:Warren Court
  • Location: Plaquemines Parish
Citation: 391 US 145 (1968)
Argued: Jan 17, 1968
Decided: May 20, 1968
Duncan v. Louisiana Case Brief