Murphy v. Florida

PETITIONER: Jack Roland Murphy
RESPONDENT: Florida
LOCATION: United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

DOCKET NO.: 74-5116
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 421 US 794 (1975)
ARGUED: Apr 15, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 16, 1975
GRANTED: Dec 23, 1974

ADVOCATES:
Harvey S. Swickle - for petitioner
William L. Rogers - for respondent, pro hac vice, by special leave of Court

Facts of the case

In 1970, Jack Roland Murphy was convicted of breaking and entering a dwelling with intent to commit robbery while armed and/or assault, and was sentenced to life in prison. Murphy filed for change of venue because of media coverage of his previous crimes. Murphy was made famous by his involvement in the 1964 jewel heist of the “Star of India,” a rare precious sapphire that was housed at the New York Museum of Natural History. Murphy was given the nickname “Murph the Surf” in national media coverage. Murphy had also been arrested and indicted for the double murder of two women in Florida, which was nationally known as the “Whiskey Creek Murders.” Murphy contends that the national publicity surrounding these two convictions tainted the jury and that his right to fair trial was violated. The motion was denied, and Murphy was convicted. After his conviction, Murphy petitioned for habeas corpus and argued that the denial of his request to change venue resulted in a violation of his right to a fair trial. The district court held that the jury was properly screened for prejudice and dismissed his petition. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Question

Was the petitioner’s right to a fair trial violated by potential prejudice of the jury as a result of national publicity surrounding previous crimes?

Media for Murphy v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 15, 1975 in Murphy v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 16, 1975 in Murphy v. Florida

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 74-5116, Murphy against Florida will be announced by Mr. Justice Marshall.

Thurgood Marshall:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Petitioner, who was convicted in a state court of robbery, sought a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that he had been denied a fair trial because jurors had learned from news accounts of his prior felony convictions or certain facts about the robbery charge itself.

In an opinion filed today, we hold that jurors' exposure to this type of information does not in a state trial presumptively deprive the defendant of due process.

Looking to the particular facts of this case, we hold that the jurors did not display hostility to petitioner, suggesting a partiality that could not be set aside.

The jurors neither betrayed or belief in the relevance on petitioner's past through his present guilt nor withdrawn from a community with settlements so inflamed against petitioner as to call in to question various signs of impartiality.

Accordingly, the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denying the writ is affirmed.

The Chief Justice has filed an opinion concurring in the result and Mr. Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Marshall.