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

By Douglas S. Campbell | Go to book overview
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Mu'Min v. Virginia

Dawud Majid Mu'Min V. Virginia Docket No. 90-5193 500 U.S. __, 114 L.Ed.2d 493, 111 S.Ct. 1899 ( 1991) Argued February 20, 1991. Decided May 20, 1991.


Background

Roots for this case reach back to Mima Queen v. Hepburn ( 1813), a case about slavery. Objecting to the dismissal of a juror named James Reed, Mima Queen and her child petitioned the Court to reverse a decision denying her freedom. During the voir dire of Queen's trial, Reed had "avowed his detestation of slavery to be such that in a doubtful case he would find a verdict for Queen and her child" (297). He said he would also decide for them if the evidence were equal on both sides. The trial judge dismissed Reed for failure to be "indifferent," and Queen appealed his dismissal to the Court. Chief Justice John Marshall acknowledged that "the difficulty of obtaining jurors whose minds are entirely uninfluenced by opinions previously formed is undoubtedly considerable" (297). Nonetheless, he concluded, "Yet it was desirable to submit the case to those who felt no bias either way; and therefore the court exercised a sound discretion in not permitting him to be sworn" (297). So Queen lost her appeal because the Court felt jurors should "stand perfectly indifferent between the parties" (297).

The Court's ruling in Queen later played an important role in Connors v. U.S. ( 1895), that was influential, in turn, upon Mu'Min. James Connors was convicted of stealing a ballot box in Denver, Colorado. He appealed in no small part because the judge at his trial refused to ask the jurors seven questions he had prepared, all dealing with the jurors' participation in the 1890 election. The following question was of special interest to Connors: "'Would your political affiliations or party predilections tend to bias your judgment in this case either for or against this defendant'" (412). After quoting at length Marshall's remarks from Queen about the "sound discretion" of the trial judge, Justice John M. Harlan admitted, "A suitable inquiry is permissible in order to ascertain whether the juror has any bias, opinion, or prejudice that would affect or control the fair determination by him of the

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