Samuel Shepherd and Walter Irvin v. State of Florida Docket No. 1951-420 341 U.S. 50, 95 L.Ed. 740, 71 S.Ct. 549 ( 1951) Argued March 9, 1951. Decided April 9, 1951.
After a fairly long hiatus in addressing issues related to the conflict between the free press and a fair trial, the Court enters the discussion once again in 1951, but this time through the back door. Although the ruling did not mention this conflict, a concurring opinion of two justices did focus on one particular aspect of it: intensive pretrial publicity.
In a per curiam decision, the Court -- writing only a four-word sentence -- reversed the conviction of two African Americans (then called Negroes) who had been tried for rape. The reversal appears to have been based exclusively on a belief that African Americans were "intentionally excluded" from a grand jury, and so the ruling appears at first blush unrelated to the definition of a free press.
In a concurring opinion, however, Justice Robert H. Jackson, joined by Felix Frankfurter, indicated that he was of a mind to reverse on the additional grounds of unconstitutionally prejudicial pretrial publicity. The newspaper coverage was so intense, according to Jackson, that implementing due process would have required moving the trial to a place unaffected by the influence of this publicity. Thus, expressed in this case is one of the major concerns about pretrial publicity -- the level of its intensity. The proposed solution is a change of venue.
This concern for the jury as a whole represents a new consideration for the Court. Prior to 1951, the primary concern for fairness centered on the individual juror. Consideration of the entire jury was not reflected in a ruling until after World War I, when racial prejudice began to manifest itself more openly. Then, the Court recognized the power of intense and pervasive community prejudice when it ruled that five African Americans in Philips County, Arkansas, could not receive a fair trial there because anyone who would have acquitted them would have found it impossible to live in that