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ROSS v. MASSACHUSETTS - 414 U.S. 1080 (1973)

U.S. Supreme Court

ROSS v. MASSACHUSETTS , 414 U.S. 1080 (1973)

414 U.S. 1080

James ROSS, Jr.
No. 73-5273.

Supreme Court of the United States

December 3, 1973

On petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS and Mr. Justice BRENNAN join, dissenting.

Petitioner was convicted in state court of armed robbery, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, and assault and battery with intent to murder. Petitioner and his codefendants were young Negroes. Their victim was a white, uniformed security guard employed by Boston University. Petitioner requested the trial judge to direct a specific question concerning racial prejudice to the prospective jurors on voir dire. [Footnote 1] The trial judge refused; instead, he made only the general inquiry mandated by Massachusetts law, whether members of the array had 'expressed or formed an opinion, or were sensible of any bias or prejudice.' The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed the conviction. Ross v. Massachusetts, Mass., 282 N.E.2d 70 (1972).

Page 414 U.S. 1080 , 1081

Petitioner sought certiorari on the grounds that he had been denied the opportunity to have the jurors examined as to racial bias, a right this Court guaranteed in Aldridge v. United States, 283 U.S. 308 (1931). We granted certiorari and remanded for reconsideration in light of Ham v. South Carolina, 409 U.S. 524, 35 L.E.2d 46 (1973). On remand, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts again upheld the conviction. Ross v. Massachusetts, Mass., 296 N.E.2d 810 (1973).

The importance of the right at issue here-the opportunity to ascertain the racial bias of the venire-can hardly be gainsaid. The right to trial by an 'impartial jury' is a cornerstone of our system of justice. 2

    '[T]he right to jury trial guarantees to the criminally accused a fair trial by a panel of impartial, 'indifferent' jurors. The failure to accord an accused a fair hearing violates even the minimal standards of due process . . .. In the language of Lord Coke, a juror must be as 'indifferent as he stands unsworne.' Co. Litt. 155b. His verdict must be based upon the evidence developed at the trial. Cf. Thompson v. City of Louisville, 362 U.S. 199. This is true regardless of the heinousness of the crime charged, the apparent guilt of the offender, or the station in life which he occupies. It was so written into our law as early as 1807 by Chief Justice Marshall in 1 Burr's Trial 416 (1807). 'The theory of the law is that a juror who has formed an opinion cannot be impartial.' Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 155.' Irvin v. Dowd, 366 U.S. 717, 722 (1961) ( footnote omitted). [414 U.S. 1080 , 1082]

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