Newspaper clipping headlined "Ruling could affect a third of Texas death row inmates," June 26, 1980
Dallas Times Herald newspaper clipping headlined "Ruling could affect a third of Texas death row inmates," June 26, 1980, by Ann McDaniel and Saralee Tiede. Article discusses the effects of a recent Supreme Court ruling on jury selection.
Clippings (information artifacts)
United States. Supreme Court
Capital punishmentCriminal Justice, Administration of
"Texas Governor Term 1, 1979-1982"
Dallas Times Herald
Texas A&M University
Cushing Memorial Library and Archives
"Governor William P. Clements, Jr. Official State Papers, 1st Term, 1979-1983"
General Counsel | 1st term
Texas State library and archives commission
Criminal Justice Reform
Clements Texas Papers
bill-as es lie RA ch exe me0 RULING — From Page One versals, but I. haven't seen the whole opinion. I really can't speculate on what will happen," she said. "But it's certainly not going to turn out death row." The portion of the Texas law that was successfully attacked, section 12.31b requires prospective jurors to swear that the prospect of sentencing a person to death will have no effect on their deliberations. Assistant Attorney General Douglas Becker, who argued for the state be- fore the Supreme Court, said Dallas convictions may be affected more than those from other areas of the state because that section of the stat- ute is used more frequently in select- ing Dallas juries than panels in other cities. "Houston never did use it," he said. The ruling may make judges reluc- tant to apply the section in selecting jurors, he said, and the result could be tougher juries. Gov. William P. Clements Jr., on his way to El Paso for a conference with border governors, withheld com- ment until his counsel, David Dean, reviews the opinion. Court of Criminal Appeals judges were reluctant to comment on the rul- ing until a copy of the opinion arrives. That court affirmed the Adams con- viction and has upheld the constitu- tionality of the jury selection provi- sion. "It could affect a number of convic- tions that have been affirmed by this court," said Judge Tom G. Davis. "We're bound by the decision of the Supeme Court. It's the law of the land." Judge Sam Houston Clinton said problems probably exist in a number of capital convictions. "But no one knows the impact without pulling the files and re- searching every case to see if the same situation applies," he added. The high court's order, on an 8 to 1 vote, bars the state from carrying out any executions until each of the in- mates is allowed to appeal his case under Wednesday's decision. The court said the state has incor- rectly applied the law that requires jurors to swear under oath that the "mandatory punishment of death or imprisonment for life will not affect deliberations on any issue of fact." The court said the Texas statute vio- lates a defendant's constitutional rights to a fair trial and due process. The high court's opinion did not ad- dress the queston of whether the de- fense attorney should have objected to the exclusions at the time. The spokesman said the state may return to the courts for a clarification on that point. Ruling could affect a third of Texas death row inmates By ANN McDANIEL and SARALEE TIEDE Staff Writers State officials were puzzling Wednesday over how 131 inmates awaiting execution in Texas might be affected by the Supreme Court's rul- ing that the state's method of choos- i.ng juries in death penalty cases is un- oanstitutional. The attorney general's office has estimated that the decision in the case af Randall Dale Adams, who was giv- en a capital sentence in the 1976 shooting death of Dallas policeman Robert Wood, could affect up to one- third of those on death row at Hunts- ville. "That's a real rough ballpark esti- mate," said Assistant Attorney Gener- al Anita Ashton. "We think perhaps in that many cases the issue could be raised and litigated but not necessar- ily have the convictions reversed. It's going to take a case-by-case review. "Right now I don't see blanket re- In accepting the Adams case last December, the high court indicated it first would decide whether the 1968 case of Witherspoon vs. Illinois, pre- viously used to set standards for jury selection in death penalty cases, was applicable in Texas. Under Texas' re- vised death penalty law, passed by the legislature after the old statute was ruled unconstitutional by the high court in 1972, murder trials are divided into two parts — one to estab- lish guilt or innocence and the other to set punishment. In their ruling Wednesday, the jus- tices, in a majority opinion authored by Associate Justice Byron R. White, said the Witherspoon doctrine did ap- ply to the Texas system. The Witherspoon case states that prospective jurors cannot .be dismissed "simply because they voice general objections to the death penalty." To be excused, prospective jurors must "make it unmistakably clear that they would vote against the death penalty regardless of the facts or circum- stances. "The State could, consistently with Witherspoon, use 12.31b (the Texas statute) to exclude prospective jurors whose views on capital punishment are such as to make them unable to follow the law or obey their oaths. But the use of 12.31b to exclude ju- rors on broader grounds based on See RULING on Page 20 their opinions concerning the death penalty is impermissible," the justices said. To assess the death penalty in Tex- as, jurors are asked to answer three questions dealing with whether the criminal act was deliberate and whether the defendant is likely to commit criminal acts in the future. If the jurors answer all the questions af- firmatively, the death sentence is automatically imposed. "As employed here, the touchstone of the inquiry under 12.31b was not whether putative jurors could and would follow their instructions and answer the posited questions in the affirmative if they honestly believed the evidence warranted it beyond a reasonable doubt. Rather, the touch- stone was whether the fact that the imposition of the death penalty would follow automatically from affirmative answers to the questions would have any effect at all on the jurors' per- formance of their duties," the court said. "Such a test could, and did, exclude jurors who stated that they would be `affected by' the possibility of the death penalty, but who apparently meant only that the potentially lethal consequences of their decision would invest their deliberations with greater seriousness and gravity or would in- volve them emotionally. Others were excluded only because they were un- able to positively state whether or not their deliberations would in any way be 'affected,'" the court continued. Justice William H. Rehnquist was the lone dissenter, arguing that the court should have reviewed its entire position on the death penalty ques- tion. The high court said Texas should apply the law so that it bars those jurors from service "whose beliefs about capital punishment would lead them to ignore the law or violate their oaths. "But in the present case, Texas has applied 12.31b to exclude jurors whose only fault was to take their re- sponsibilty with special seriousness or to acknowledge honestly that they might or might not be affected. It does not appear in the record before us that these individuals were so irre- vocably opposed to capital punish- ment as to frustrate the state's legiti- mate efforts to administer its constitu- tionally valid death penalty scheme," the court said. "Accordingly, the Con- stitution disentitles the state to ex- ecute a sentence of death imposed by a jury from which such prospective jurors have been excluded." Associate Justices William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall filed separate opinions endorsing the majority deci- sion but reiterating their objection to the death penalty, in all circum- stances, as a violation of the Eight Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. In his dissent, Rehnquist said he was not opposed to having each juror swear not to allow the prospect of death interfere with their delibera- tions. "Given this mandate to a jury in a capital case to answer certain specific questions on the basis of the evidence submitted, I see no reason why Texas should not be entitled to require each juror to swear that he or she will an- swer those questions without regard to their cumulative consequences, "he wrote. Rehniquist said the court should re- examine the "doctrinal underpin- nings" of the Witherspoon decision in light of more recent court decisions upholding the constitutionality of capital punishment. The court's ruling only applies to Texas. because it is the only state which automatically imposes the death penalty on the basis of three questions during the punishment phase of the trial. Wednesday's decision overturns the ruling of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which upheld the death sen- tence in the Adams case. Since the law requires that a defendant be sen- tenced by the same jury that found him guilty, Adams and other inmates affected by today's ruling will be en- titled to a new trial.