Opposed capital punishment

The Witherspoon v. Illinois dealt with the relationship between jurors and death penalty. In this case the Illinois state statute which stated that those jurors who conscientiously opposed death punishment should be excluded from the trial was applied. In the trial, there was exclusion of half of the jury who opposed capital punishment. According to the statute those jurors who say that they will vote against death punishment can be excluded and it is not possible to exclude those who generally opposed capital punishment. However the prosecution did not verify whether the excluded jurors would have voted against capital punishment.

The petitioner stated that he was denied the right given by Sixth amendment and Fourteenth amendment which had assured the impartial jury and due process. By including only those jurors who supported capital punishment the petitioner was trialed by the biased jury and he was not given the full justice guaranteed by the constitution. Based on this argument the Supreme Court gave its decision that the earlier decision given by the lower court was unconstitutional as it violated the provisions of the Sixth and Fourteenth amendments of the US constitution.

(Goldman, 2005) The jurors represent the different viewpoints of the people in the society and they possess the discretionary rights, in the different cases, to decide for or against death punishment. In order to have impartial decision regarding a particular case it is necessary to have a jury which expresses different viewpoints. Hence, those who opposed capital punishment may or may not support capital punishment in the different cases. However, a partial jury is not in a position to perform the function of the jury with different viewpoints.

Hence, it was decided by the Supreme Court that it is necessary to have a complete jury instead of excluding some jurors on the simple belief that they opposed capital punishment. (Findlaw, 2006) This decision has protected the constitutional provision and it has protected the right of the individuals to have impartial jury during the trial of their case. This decision also influenced the future cases. For example, Witherspoon v. Illinois case was cited in the Morgan v. Illinois which was decided in 1992. This showed that as late as 1992 the Witherspoon v. Illinois influenced the cases involving capital punishment.

In this case the trial court refused to accept the request of Morgan to ask the jurors whether they would automatically favor or oppose capital punishment. The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the trial court that there is no need to confirm whether the jurors would automatically oppose or favor capital punishment regardless of the facts pertaining to the case. The trial court had asked the jurors to take oath that they would give impartial decision regarding the case. Hence, the question whether the jurors supported or opposed capital punishment does not become relevant in this case. (Oncle n. d. )

The above details show that Witherspoon v. Illinois resulted in debate among the legal experts pertaining to the significance of the decision given by the Supreme Court. This case also affected the various other cases that emerged during the later period in the history of the U. S. judiciary history. The Supreme Court also protected the rights of the convicted people as guaranteed by the Sixth amendment and Fourteenth amendment of the constitution.


  • Goldman, Jerry. (2005). Witherspoon v. Illinois 391 U. S. 510 (1968) Docket Number: 1018. U. S. Supreme Court Multimedia. Retrieved 22 February 2006 from http://www.oyez.org/