Patton v. Yount

LOCATION: Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

DOCKET NO.: 83-95
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 467 US 1025 (1984)
ARGUED: Feb 28, 1984
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1984

F. Cortez Bell, III - on behalf of the Petitioners
George E. Schumacher - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Patton v. Yount

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 28, 1984 in Patton v. Yount

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Bell, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

F. Cortez Bell, III:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the court:

The instant matter before the Court this afternoon, Paton v. Yount, presents this Court a broad, general question dealing with the impact of pretrial publicity upon the ability to select and empanel a fair and impartial jury, as well as a question dealing with what if any standard is to be provided to the federal courts for purposes of reviewing a state court conviction.

However, contained within that broad and general question is a much narrower, much smaller question.

However, that question is very important, and that being what standard is to be applied by a federal court to a state court determination of the impartiality of not only just one juror but of a jury panel as a whole.

Now, the basic factual history setting forth these particular issues have previously been exhaustively covered both in the record and in the brief of counsel.

With regard to the 2254 analysis, the respondents in their brief rather summarily dismiss this particular issue.

However, it is the petitioners' assertion that this issue is very important not only to this particular case but also to the federal circuits and the federal district courts.

The courts since the inception of federal habeas corpus review have constantly struggled with the question as to how much deference should be given to a state court determination, and of course, as part of that struggle, that has led to a conflict between the state and the federal court systems.

With the amendment in 1966 of Section 2254 by adding a provision 2254(d), Congress initially made an attempt to attempt to alleviate some of this particular conflict.

However, it seems that due to the recent influx of cases that have been decided on the basis of 2254, that particular provision has led to more litigation rather than ceasing the litigation in the various federal courts.

It wasn't until this Court's decision in Sumner v. Mata in 1981 that this court orally addressed in that particular opinion what standard of review, what should the federal courts do with regard to state court determinations.

Of what?

F. Cortez Bell, III:

State court determinations basically as to factual matters.

Fact, yes.

F. Cortez Bell, III:

Yes, not the mixed questions of fact and law.

With regard to that particular decision, it set forth that the federal courts must not only note the provisions of 2254, but that they must go one step further and indicate the basis of their analysis so the reviewing court could review their determination, on what basis did they decide that the state court determination as to a factual matter would not be accorded the presumption of correctness?

Now, in essence, what we have in the present case before the court today, we have a state trial court and Pennsylvania State Supreme Court determination as to the issue of juror impartiality.

So the first question that must be addressed is is this a factual determination, or is this a determination of a mixed question of fact and law?

William H. Rehnquist:

This was at the second state trial, was it not, Mr. Bell?

F. Cortez Bell, III:

Yes, this was at the second state trial in 1970.

William H. Rehnquist:

Fourteen years ago?

F. Cortez Bell, III:

Fourteen years ago, yes.

Warren E. Burger:

Is it correct that this, the act charged in the indictment occurred in 1966?

F. Cortez Bell, III:


The actual occurrence in this particular case was April 28 of 1966.

The first trial was held with a decision being reached by the jury October 7 of 1966, and then the second trial occurred in November 20th of '70, 1970.

With regard to the issue as to whether this is a factual determination, I would submit to the court that what we have in essence here is a determination of a credibility issue by the trial court judge, in this particular case, Judge Charry, and hearing the indications from the person on the voir dire, that person indicating as to whether they had an opinion, did not have an opinion, whether it was fixed or unfixed, or even where they could set that opinion aside, what the trial court judge was doing in that case was determining the credibility of that particular person, was what they were saying is believable based upon their demeanor, their tone, the inflection in their voice.

Now, this particular issue as to credibility is a very difficult issue to determine on the basis of appellate review.