Groppi v. Wisconsin

LOCATION: Former New York Times Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 400 US 505 (1971)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1970
DECIDED: Jan 25, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for Groppi v. Wisconsin

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1970 in Groppi v. Wisconsin

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in number 26, Groppi against Wisconsin.

Mrs. Dubois you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Elizabeth B. Dubois:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

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

It involves the criminal conviction of Father James E. Groppi from resisting arrest during a civil rights demonstration that took place in August of 1967.

At issue is the constitutionality of the Wisconsin statute which prohibited the change of venue in Father Groppi's case because he was charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony.

The facts of the case briefly state are as follows: Father Groppi, a Roman Catholic priest, advisor to the NAACP Youth Council and an active civil rights leader for number of years in Milwaukee was arrested on August 31, 1967.

He was charged with resisting arrest, a misdemeanor punishable under Wisconsin law by a maximum of one year and a $500.00 fine.

He was convicted after a jury trial on February 9, 1968.

The testimony at trial just laid out in some detail in our brief, is significant in two respects.

First, it is clear that the activities out of which his criminal charge arose were considered crimes of major precautions by the people of Milwaukee, whatever the technical classification of the crime with which he was charged.

Thus, the defendant's arrest occurred in the course of a civil rights march, protesting a proclamation issued by the Mayor of Milwaukee, banning all marches and demonstrations from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m. for a 30-day period.

That proclamation had itself been issued in response to a series of civil rights demonstrations, marches and activities participated in by Father Groppi and the Youth Council.

The testimony is also significant in that the States and the defenses' versions of the facts essential to his guilt or innocence on the resisting arrest charge were in basic conflict.

The state witnesses testified that while Father Groppi was being carried in a limp position to the police wagon.

He kicked the policeman who was carrying him by the left leg, meanwhile shouting a profanity.

Defense witnesses testified that that same officer had gouged Father Groppi's leg and then it was in response to that that Father Groppi demanded his name and badge number.

The defense denied that there've been any kicking or any profanity.

The defendant moved prior to trial for change of venue on the grounds that massive and prejudicial news coverage that he had received as a civil rights leader and in connection with this case in Milwaukee County had created community prejudice preventing an impartial jury trial in that county.

He asked for an opportunity to prove the nature in extent of that news coverage and its effect on the community and then the likelihood of an impartial trial in that county.

This motion was denied for that in evidentiary hearing on the sole ground that the Wisconsin statute at issue prohibited a change of venue in misdemeanor cases.

The defendant challenged the validity and constitutionality of --

Counsel, at this point, does the statute in so many terms prohibit the change of venue in misdemeanor cases?

Elizabeth B. Dubois:

Today Your Honor or at the time --

At that time.

Elizabeth B. Dubois:

At that time, the statute as interpreted by the Trial Court in its terms prohibited.

The Trial Court interpreted that very specifically to prohibit change of venue.

It was on that ground such denied the motion.

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin in its opinion again interprets that statute to absolutely prohibit change of venue in a misdemeanor case.

Potter Stewart:

The statute certainly does not mention misdemeanors, does it?