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

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview
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Patton v. Yount

Ernest S. Patton, Superintendent, SGI-Camp Hill and Leroy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General of Pennsylvania V. Jon E. Yount Docket No. 83-95 467 U.S. 1025, 81 L.Ed.2d 847,104 S.Ct. 2885 ( 1984) Argued February 28, 1984. Decided June 26, 1984.


Background

In Reynolds v. U.S. ( 1878), the Court first said determining impartiality (or the lack thereof) in a member of a jury is a mixed question of law and fact and that the trial court's determination of impartiality can be overruled only if a "clear" or "manifest" error was committed. The Court here disagrees about the scope of these two questions and about the meaning of granting deference to a trial court's answers.

Justice Stevens in dissent asserted that the question of fact is to be limited to a determination of whether the juror's testimony is true while the determination of how strongly an opinion is held is a matter of law. He also said only the trial court's finding of truth is due the deference of fact. The majority of the Court, however, said that the question of fact includes determining both the truthfulness and the depth of a juror's opinion; whereas the question of law centers upon applying the correct standard of impartiality. The deference to fact, according to the Court, applies, therefore, to both the truthfulness and the depth of a prospective juror's opinion about the guilt of an accused.

The words of Justice Holmes in Holt v. U.S. ( 1910) should not be overlooked. He wrote in avowed reference to Reynolds, "The finding of the trial court upon the strength of the juryman's opinion and [emphasis added] his partiality or impartiality ought not to be set aside by a reviewing court unless the error is manifest" (248). Thus, Holmes appears to limit the question of fact to "the strength of the juryman's opinion" and the question of law to "his partiality or impartiality." Moreover, he grants deference on both questions to the trial judge.

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