Free Press v. Fair Trial: Supreme Court Decisions since 1807

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview
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Mattox v. U.S.

Clyde Mattox v. The United States Docket No. 1892-1008 146 U.S. 140, 36 L.Ed. 917, 13 S.Ctn. 50 ( 1892) Submitted October 31, 1892. Decided November 11, 1892.


Background

Two unusual events influenced the deliberations of the jury in this case. The first was an unsolicited conversation with the bailiff in charge of the jury after closing arguments had been completed and deliberations were about to begin. The second was the reading of a newspaper article during deliberations by some members of the jury. Jurors attempted to submit affidavits related to these events.

The affidavits themselves raised a number of troubling questions. Should the Court accept them, and, if so, should the justices regard them as evidence that the jury verdict was invalid? These questions were first raised in Reid v. U.S., 1851, where the Court avoided addressing them. A note to Doss v. Tyack ( 55 U.S. 297, 12 L.Ed. 428, 14 Howard 297, 1852) cites several cases in support of not receiving such documents: "Affidavits or testimony of jurors will not be received to impeach their verdict, or to explain the grounds of their verdict" (428). Another short discussion of this topic can be found in Clinton v. Englebrecht, 80 U.S. 434, 20 L.Ed. 659, 13 Wall 434 ( 1872).


Circumstances

A grand jury in Wichita, Kansas, indicted Clyde Mattox on September 7, 1891, for shooting in the breast, back, and abdomen John Mullen, described as a colored man, in what was then commonly called the Oklahoma Indian Territories of Kansas.

After the jury had been charged and retired to deliberate, a bailiff made within its hearing comments prejudicial to Mattox. Among them was the assertion that "'This is the third fellow he has killed'" (140).

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