Duncan v. Louisiana

LOCATION: Plaquemines Parish

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1967-1969)

CITATION: 391 US 145 (1968)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1968
DECIDED: May 20, 1968

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.


Was the State of Louisiana obligated to provide a trial by jury in criminal cases such as Duncan's?

Media for Duncan v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1968 in Duncan v. Louisiana

Earl Warren:

Number 410, Gary Duncan, appellant versus Louisiana.

Mr. Sobol.

Richard B. Sobol:

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

This case is here on appeal from the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

And it raises the issue that was to a logic stand assumed in the case immediately preceding, namely whether the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment secures the right to trial by jury in state criminal proceedings.

The appellant in this case was charged in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana with the crime of simple battery, which is defined in the Louisiana Code, as the intentional use of force or violence upon the person of another without a dangerous weapon.

This offense in Louisiana includes all batteries other than those committed with a dangerous weapon and is punishable by two years imprisonment without hard labor and a $300.00 fine.

In Louisiana, there are four categories of crimes for purposes of trial by jury.

In capital cases only, a jury of 12 all of whom must concur in a verdict is provided, that is the common law constitutional jury.

In cases in which imprisonment must be at hard labor, a 12-man jury is provided, but nine jurors are sufficient to return a verdict.

In cases in which imprisonment may be at hard labor, a five-man jury is provided and included in that category are such serious crimes as aggravated criminal damage to property which is punishable by 15 years, aggravated battery punishable by 10 years in forgery punishable --

Byron R. White:

Must the five-man jury be unanimous?

Richard B. Sobol:

Yes it must.

The fourth category and that in to which this case falls --

[Inaudible] didn't do it the right to the sentence.

Richard B. Sobol:

No sir, no sir.

Each criminal provision --

If that's worked hard labor and then you turn that jury job to the --

Richard B. Sobol:

Yes sir.

And whether it says may be at hard labor or must be at hard labor would determine whether it's a five-man jury unanimous or a 12-man jury, nine of whom must concur.

The fourth category of crimes in Louisiana, and that in to which this case falls, the cases in which no provision is made in the statute for hard labor and the Constitution of Louisiana and Article 779 of the Criminal Code expressly provides that there shall be no jury in such cases.

And that category includes such serious crimes as aggravated battery resulting from the breach of the peace which is punishable by 10 years, simple battery, the crime in this case punishable by two years, and aggravated assault punishable two years.

Earl Warren:

What would you say about 10 years?

Richard B. Sobol:

There is a --

Earl Warren:

Would it be possible to send a man to jail for 10 years without a jury of trial?

Richard B. Sobol:

Yes sir, under a charge of aggravated battery resulting from a breach of the peace, I should make clear that's not this case.

But that is --

Earl Warren:

Yes, I understand that.

Richard B. Sobol:

Yes sir, because that is a misdemeanor in Louisiana because there's no provision in the statute for hard labor.

That is the division and I want to call that point of the Court's attention because there's a good deal of use of the word “misdemeanor” in a federal constitutional sense as if it means something when of course, I think it's clear in light of this record that it does not.