LOCATION:North Carolina State Capitol
DOCKET NO.: 74-5808
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
CITATION: 425 US 536 (1976)
ARGUED: Dec 09, 1975 / Dec 10, 1975
DECIDED: May 03, 1976
Bruce S. Rogow – for petitioner
Barbara Rutledge –
Media for Francis v. Henderson
- Opinion Announcement – May 03, 1976
- Oral Argument – December 09, 1975 (Part 1)
- Oral Argument – December 10, 1975 (Part 2)
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – May 03, 1976 in Francis v. Henderson
Warren E. Burger:
The judgment and the opinion of the court in 74-5808 Francis against Henderson will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.
This is case is before us by way of writ of certiorari granted to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Three years ago in the case called Davis against the United States reported in Volume 411 of the United States Reports, the court held that a federal prisoner who would fail to make a timely challenge to the allegedly unconstitutional composition of the grand jury that had indicted him, could not after his conviction attack the grand jury’s composition in an action for federal collateral relief.
The question in this case is whether a state prisoner who failed to make a timely challenge to the composition of the grand jury that indicted him could after his conviction bring that challenge in a federal habeas corpus proceeding.
The petitioner Abraham Francis was brought to trial in Louisiana Court in 1965 upon an indictment for felony murder.
He was represented by counsel provided by the State.
The Louisiana law then in force clearly required that any objection by a defendant to the composition of the grand jury that had indicted him had to be made in advance of his trial.
Otherwise, the law provided, “all such objections shall be considered as waived and shall not afterwards be urged or heard.”
No such objection in any form was made by or on behalf of Francis.
At the ensuing trial the jury found Francis guilty, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
He did not appeal the conviction, but later sought a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
The District Court granted the writ on the ground that Negroes had been impermissibly excluded from the grand jury that had returned the indictment.
The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment, holding that in the light of this Court’s decision in the Davis case, “the Louisiana waiver provision must be given effect by the federal district court unless there is a showing of actual prejudice.”
We granted certiorari in order to consider a recurring and unresolved question of federal law.
For the reasons set out in the written opinion of the court, we conclude that the Court of Appeals was correct in holding that the rule of Davis against the United States applies with equal force when a federal court is asked in a habeas corpus proceeding to overturn a state court conviction because of an allegedly unconstitutional grand jury indictment.
In a collateral attack upon a conviction that rule requires, contrary to the petitioner’s assertion, not only a showing of “cause” for the defendant’s failure to challenge the composition of the grand jury before trial, but also a showing of actual prejudice.
Accordingly, the judgment is affirmed.
Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion, Mr. Justice Marshall took no part in the decision of this case, and Mr. Justice Stevens took no part in its consideration or decision.
Warren E. Burger:
Thank you Mr. Justice Stewart.