LOCATION: Ray Brook Federal Correctional Institution
DOCKET NO.: 90-5193
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of Virginia
CITATION: 500 US 415 (1991)
ARGUED: Feb 20, 1991
DECIDED: May 30, 1991
John H. Blume - on behalf of the Petitioner
John H. McLees, Jr. - on behalf of the Respondent
Facts of the case
Media for Mu'Min v. VirginiaAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 20, 1991 in Mu'Min v. Virginia
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - May 30, 1991 in Mu'Min v. Virginia
William H. Rehnquist:
I have the opinions of the Court in two cases to announce.
The first is No. 90-5193, Mu’min against Virginia.
This case comes to us from the Supreme Court of Virginia.
The Petitioner, Mu’min, was an inmate serving time for first degree murder and he then committed another murder while out of prison on a work detail.
The case engendered substantial publicity, in the local news media, occurred in Prince William County which is basically suburban Virginia, the Virginia suburbs of Washington.
The Trial Judge denied the petitioner’s motion for individual voir dire of the jurors, individual examination of the jurors before the case, and refused to ask any of his proposed questions relating to the content of news items that potential jurors might have seen or read.
Instead, the judge engaged in which you might call a two-part voir dire examination of the jurors.
First, he questioned the perspective jurors as a group asking four questions about the effect on them of pre-trial publicity or information about the case obtained by other means.
Second, he asked additional questions of potential jurors and panels of four, and each time a juror indicated that he had acquired knowledge about the case from outside sources, he was asked whether he had formed an opinion.
Two jurors who admitted to having formed a belief as to Mu’min’s guilt or who were equivocal as to their impartiality were excused for cause by the judge on his own motion.
Although eight of the twelve jurors eventually impaneled admitted that they had read or heard something about the case, none indicated that they had formed an opinion as to petitioner’s guilt.
The jury found Mu’min guilty of first degree murder and the judge sentenced him to death.
The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed finding while a defendant has the right to ask whether a juror has previously acquired any information about the case, a criminal defendant does not have a constitutional right to explore the content of the acquired information.
In a decision filed with the Clerk today, we affirm the conviction and hold that the trial judge’s refusal to question perspective jurors about the specific contents of the news reports to which he had been exposed did not violate Mu’min’s Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury or his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Our cases have stressed the wide discretion granted to Trial Courts in conducting voir dire in the area of pretrial publicity and in other areas that might tend to show juror bias.
While adverse pre-trial publicity can create a presumption of prejudice, where the locale is simply swamp with publicity, this is not such a case.
The Trial Court was not faced with a huge waive of public passion that might have required more extensive examination of potential jurors that it undertook here.
So, we hold that what the trial judge, in this case did, did not violate the Constitution.
Justice O’Connor has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Marshall has filed a dissenting opinion in all but part four of which Justices Blackmun and Stevens have joined; and Justice Kennedy has filed a dissenting opinion.