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

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview

Murphy v. Florida

Jack Roland Murphy v. State of Florida Docket No. 74-5116 421 U.S. 794, 44 L.Ed.2d 589, 95 S.Ct. 2031 ( 1975)

Argued April 15, 1975. Decided June 16, 1975.


Background

In four previous cases the Court reversed convictions because of massive pretrial publicity that it said perforce made impossible an impartial jury. See Irvin v. Dowd ( 1961), Rideau v. Louisiana ( 1963), Estes v. Texas ( 1965), and Sheppard v. Maxwell ( 1966). It is not surprising, therefore, that Murphy, a criminal of some national notoriety, would assert that he too did not receive a fair trial because of the abundance of prejudicial pretrial publicity surrounding his trial.

In effect, Murphy was asserting he was such an infamous criminal that he could never receive a fair trial because the whole country was already unconstitutionally prejudiced against him. The Court foils his attempt, however, by drawing a line between how much pretrial publicity is unconstitutionally harmful and how much is not. This question is taken up again by the Court in Mu'Min v. Virginia ( 1991).


Circumstances

A former child prodigy who played violin with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Jack Roland Murphy first attracted nationwide publicity for his role in the 1964 theft of the Star of India, a 565-carat sapphire housed in the New York Museum of Natural History. Because of his splashy lifestyle, he continued to interest reporters who dubbed him "Murph the Surf." He served two years for the theft.

On January 28, 1968, Murphy, wearing a pair of sheer black panties as a mask, and three others were arrested for a daring daylight robbery attempt at the Pine Tree Drive house of wealthy Miami Beach resident Mrs. Olive

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