Johnson v. Louisiana


No. 69-5035 Argued: March 1, 1971 --- Decided: May 22, 1972
MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Under both the Louisiana Constitution and Code of Criminal Procedure, criminal cases in which the punishment is necessarily at hard labor are tried to a jury of 12, and the vote of nine jurors is sufficient to return either a guilty or not guilty verdict. [n1] The principal question [p358] in this case is whether these provisions allowing less than unanimous verdicts in certain cases are valid under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.


Appellant Johnson was arrested at his home on January 20, 1968. There was no arrest warrant, but the victim of an armed robbery had identified Johnson from photographs as having committed the crime. He was then identified at a lineup, at which he had counsel, by the victim of still another robbery. The latter crime is involved in this case. Johnson pleaded not guilty, was tried on May 14, 1968, by a 12-man jury, and was convicted by a nine-to-three verdict. His due process and equal protection challenges to the Louisiana constitutional and statutory provisions were rejected by the Louisiana courts, 255 La. 314, 230 So.2d 825 (1970), and he appealed here. We noted probable jurisdiction. 400 U.S. 900 (1970). Conceding that, under Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145 (1968), the Sixth Amendment is not applicable to his case, see DeStefano v. Woods, 392 U.S. 631 (1968), appellant presses his equal protection [p359] and due process claims, together with a Fourth Amendment claim also rejected by the Louisiana Supreme Court. We affirm.


Appellant argues that, in order to give substance to the reasonable doubt standard, which the State, by virtue of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, must satisfy in criminal cases, see In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 363-364 (1970), that clause must be construed to require a unanimous jury verdict in all criminal cases. In so contending, appellant does not challenge the instructions in this case. Concededly, the jurors were told to convict only if convinced of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Nor is there any claim that, if the verdict in this case had been unanimous, the evidence would have been insufficient to support it. Appellant focuses instead on the fact that less than all jurors voted to convict, and argues that, because three voted to acquit, the reasonable doubt standard has not been satisfied, and his conviction is therefore infirm.

We note at the outset that this Court has never held jury unanimity to be a requisite of due process of law. Indeed, the Court has more than once expressly said that,

[i]n criminal cases, due process of law is not denied by a state law . . . which dispenses with the necessity of a jury of twelve, or unanimity in the verdict.

Jordan v. Massachusetts, 225 U.S. 167, 176 (1912) (dictum). Accord, Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581, 602, 605 (1900) (dictum). These statements, moreover, coexisted with cases indicating that proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is implicit in constitutions recognizing "the fundamental principles that are deemed essential for the protection of life and liberty." Davis v. United States, 160 U.S. 469, 488 (1895). See also Leland v. Oregon, 343 U.S. 790, 802-803 (1952) (dissenting opinion); Brinegar [p360] v. United States, 338 U.S. 160, 174 (1949); Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 453-460 (1895). [n2]

Entirely apart from these cases, however, it is our view that the fact of three dissenting votes to acquit raises no question of constitutional substance about either the integrity or the accuracy of the majority verdict of guilt. Appellant's contrary argument breaks down into two parts, each of which we shall consider separately: first, that nine individual jurors will be unable to vote conscientiously in favor of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt when three of their colleagues are arguing for acquittal, and, second, that guilt cannot be said to have been proved beyond a reasonable doubt when one or more of a jury's members at the conclusion of deliberation still possess such a doubt. Neither argument is persuasive.

Numerous cases have defined a reasonable doubt as one "‘based on reason which arises from the evidence or lack of evidence.'" United States v. Johnson, 343 F.2d 5, 6 n. 1 (CA2 1965). Accord, e.g., Bishop v. United States, 71 App.D.C. 132, 138, 107 F.2d 297, 303 (1939); United States v. Schneiderman, 106 F.Supp. 906, 927 (SD Cal.1952); United States v. Haupt, 47 F.Supp. 836, 840 (ND Ill. 1942), rev'd on other grounds, 136 F.2d 661 (CA7 1943). In Winship, supra, the Court recognized this evidentiary standard as "‘impress[ing] on the trier of fact the necessity of reaching a subjective state of certitude of the facts in issue.'" 397 U.S. at 364 (citation omitted). In considering the first branch [p361] of appellant's argument, we can find no basis for holding that the nine jurors who voted for his conviction failed to follow their instructions concerning the need for proof beyond such a doubt, or that the vote of any one of the nine failed to reflect an honest belief that guilt had been so proved. Appellant, in effect, asks us to assume that, when minority jurors express sincere doubts about guilt, their fellow jurors will nevertheless ignore them and vote to convict even if deliberation has not been exhausted and minority jurors have grounds for acquittal which, if pursued, might persuade members of the majority to acquit. But the mere fact that three jurors voted to acquit does not, in itself, demonstrate that, had the nine jurors of the majority attended further to reason and the evidence, all or one of them would have developed a reasonable doubt about guilt. We have no grounds for believing that majority jurors, aware of their responsibility and power over the liberty of the defendant, would simply refuse to listen to arguments presented to them in favor of acquittal, terminate discussion, and render a verdict. On the contrary, it is far more likely that a juror presenting reasoned argument in favor of acquittal would either have his arguments answered or would carry enough other jurors with him to prevent conviction. A majority will cease discussion and outvote a minority only after reasoned discussion has ceased to have persuasive effect or to serve any other purpose when a minority, that is, continues to insist upon acquittal without having persuasive reasons in support of its position. At that juncture there is no basis for denigrating the vote of so large a majority of the jury or for refusing to accept their decision as being, at least in their minds, beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, at this point, a

dissenting juror should consider whether his doubt was a reasonable one . . . [when it made] no impression upon the minds of so many [p362] men, equally honest, equally intelligent with himself.

Allen v. United States, 164 U.S. 492, 501 (1896). Appellant offers no evidence that majority jurors simply ignore the reasonable doubts of their colleagues or otherwise act irresponsibly in casting their votes in favor of conviction, and before we alter our own longstanding perceptions about jury behavior and overturn a considered legislative judgment that unanimity is not essential to reasoned jury verdicts, we must have some basis for doing so other than unsupported assumptions.

We conclude, therefore, that, as to the nine jurors who voted to convict, the State satisfied its burden of proving guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. The remaining question under the Due Process Clause is whether the vote of three jurors for acquittal can be said to impeach the verdict of the other nine and to demonstrate that guilt was not in fact, proved beyond such doubt. We hold that it cannot.

Of course, the State's proof could perhaps be regarded as more certain if it had convinced all 12 jurors, instead of only nine; it would have been even more compelling if it had been required to convince and had, in fact, convinced 24 or 36 jurors. But the fact remains that nine jurors -- a substantial majority of the jury -- were convinced by the evidence. In our view, disagreement of three jurors does not alone establish reasonable doubt, particularly when such a heavy majority of the jury, after having considered the dissenters' views, remains convinced of guilt. That rational men disagree is not, in itself, equivalent to a failure of proof by the State, nor does it indicate infidelity to the reasonable doubt standard. Jury verdicts finding guilt beyond a reasonable doubt are regularly sustained even though the evidence was such that the jury would have been justified in having a reasonable doubt, see United States v. Quarles, 387 F.2d 551, 554 (CA4 1967); Bell v. United States, 185 F.2d 302, 310 (CA4 1950); even though the trial judge might not have [p363] reached the same conclusion as the jury, see Takahashi v. United States, 143 F.2d 118, 122 (CA9 1944); and even though appellate judges are closely divided on the issue whether there was sufficient evidence to support a conviction. See United States v. Johnson, 140 U.S.App.D.C. 54, 60, 433 F.2d 1160, 1166 (1970); United States v. Manuel-Baca, 421 F.2d 781, 783 (CA9 1970). That want of jury unanimity is not to be equated with the existence of a reasonable doubt emerges even more clearly from the fact that, when a jury in a federal court, which operates under the unanimity rule and is instructed to acquit a defendant if it has a reasonable doubt about his guilt, see Holt v. United States, 218 U.S. 245, 253 (1910); Agnew v. United States, 165 U.S. 36, 51 (1897); W. Mathes & E. Devitt, Federal Jury Practice and Instructions § 8.01 (1965), cannot agree unanimously upon a verdict, the defendant is not acquitted, but is merely given a new trial. Downum v. United States, 372 U.S. 734, 736 (1963); Dreyer v. Illinois, 187 U.S. 71, 85-86 (1902); United States v. Perez, 9 Wheat. 579, 580 (1824). If the doubt of a minority of jurors indicates the existence of a reasonable doubt, it would appear that a defendant should receive a directed verdict of acquittal, rather than a retrial. We conclude, therefore, that verdicts rendered by nine out of 12 jurors are not automatically invalidated by the disagreement of the dissenting three. Appellant was not deprived of due process of law.


Appellant also attacks as violative of the Equal Protection Clause the provisions of Louisiana law requiring unanimous verdicts in capital and five-man jury cases, but permitting less than unanimous verdicts in cases such as his. We conclude, however, that the Louisiana statutory scheme serves a rational purpose, and is not subject to constitutional challenge. [p364]

In order to "facilitate, expedite, and reduce expense in the administration of criminal justice," State v. Lewis, 129 La. 800, 804, 56 So. 893, 894 (1911), Louisiana has permitted less serious crimes to be tried by five jurors with unanimous verdicts, more serious crimes have required the assent of nine of 12 jurors, and, for the most serious crimes, a unanimous verdict of 12 jurors is stipulated. In appellant's case, nine jurors, rather than five or 12, were required for a verdict. We discern nothing invidious in this classification. We have held that the States are free under the Federal Constitution to try defendants with juries of less than 12 men. Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970). Three jurors here voted to acquit, but, from what we have earlier said, this does not demonstrate that appellant was convicted on a lower standard of proof. To obtain a conviction in any of the categories under Louisiana law, the State must prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but the number of jurors who must be so convinced increases with the seriousness of the crime and the severity of the punishment that may be imposed. We perceive nothing unconstitutional or invidiously discriminatory, however, in a State's insisting that its burden of proof be carried with more jurors where more serious crimes or more severe punishments are at issue.

Appellant nevertheless insists that dispensing with unanimity in his case disadvantaged him as compared with those who commit less serious or capital crimes. With respect to the latter, he is correct; the State does make conviction more difficult by requiring the assent of all 12 jurors. Appellant might well have been ultimately acquitted had he committed a capital offense. But, as we have indicated, this does not constitute a denial of equal protection of the law; the State may treat capital offenders differently without violating the constitutional rights of those charged with lesser crimes. As to the crimes triable by a five-man jury, if appellant's [p365] position is that it is easier to convince nine of 12 jurors than to convince all of five, he is simply challenging the judgment of the Louisiana Legislature. That body obviously intended to vary the difficulty of proving guilt with the gravity of the offense and the severity of the punishment. We remain unconvinced by anything appellant has presented that this legislative judgment was defective in any constitutional sense.


Appellant also urges that his nighttime arrest without a warrant was unlawful in the absence of a valid excuse for failing to obtain a warrant, and further, that his subsequent lineup identification was a forbidden fruit of the claimed invasion of his Fourth Amendment rights. The validity of Johnson's arrest, however, is beside the point here, for it is clear that no evidence that might properly be characterized as the fruit of an illegal entry and arrest was used against him at his trial. Prior to the lineup, at which Johnson was represented by counsel, he was brought before a committing magistrate to advise him of his rights and set bail. At the time of the lineup, the detention of the appellant was under the authority of this commitment. Consequently, the lineup was conducted not by "exploitation" of the challenged arrest, but "by means sufficiently distinguishable to be purged of the primary taint." Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 488 (1963).

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Louisiana is therefore


1. La.Const., Art. VII, § 41, provides:

Section 41. The Legislature shall provide for the election and drawing of competent and intelligent jurors for the trial of civil and criminal cases; provided, however, that no woman shall be drawn for jury service unless she shall have previously filed with the clerk of the District Court a written declaration of her desire to be subject to such service. All cases in which the punishment may not be at hard labor shall, until otherwise provided by law, be tried by the judge without a jury. Cases, in which the punishment may be at hard labor, shall be tried by a jury of five, all of whom must concur to render a verdict; cases, in which the punishment is necessarily at hard labor, by a jury of twelve, nine of whom must concur to render a verdict; cases in which the punishment may be capital, by a jury of twelve, all of whom must concur to render a verdict.

La.Code Crim.Proc., Art. 782, provides:

Cases in which the punishment may be capital shall be tried by a jury of twelve jurors, all of whom must concur to render a verdict. Cases in which the punishment is necessarily at hard labor shall be tried by a jury composed of twelve jurors, nine of whom must concur to render a verdict. Cases in which the punishment may be imprisonment at hard labor shall be tried by a jury composed of five jurors, all of whom must concur to render a verdict. Except as provided in Article 780, trial by jury may not be waived.

2. Coffin contains a lengthy discussion on the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and other similar standards of proof in ancient Hebrew, Greek, and Roman law, as well as in the common law of England. This discussion suggests that the Court of the late 19th century would have held the States bound by the reasonable doubt standard under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment on the assumption that the standard was essential to a civilized system of criminal procedure. See generally Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145, 149-150, n. 14 (1968).