Witherspoon v. Illinois

Facts of the Case

At the petitioner’s trial for murder, the prosecution eliminated nearly half the venire of prospective jurors by challenging, under the authority of Ill. Rev. Stat. ch. 38, para. 743 (1959), any venireman who expressed qualms about capital punishment. Only 5 of the 47 venireman who were eliminated explicitly stated that under no circumstances would they vote to impose capital punishment. The prisoner was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Petitioner sought review of the judgment of the Illinois Supreme Court, which denied him post-conviction relief.


Does a state statue that provides grounds for the dismissal of any juror with conscientious scruples against capital punishment violate the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of an impartial jury and the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of due process?


Yes. In an opinion delivered by Justice Potter Stewart, the Court held 6-3 that Witherspoon’s death sentence was unconstitutional. The Court reasoned that a jury composed after the dismissal of all who oppose the death sentence was biased in favor the death sentence