Michel v. Louisiana

350 U.S. 91
Michel v. Louisiana
Argued: November 8-9, 1955
Decided: December 5, 1955


See 350 U.S. 955, 76 S.Ct. 340.
On Writs of Certiorari to the Supreme Court of Louisiana.
Messrs. Gerard H. Schrieber, and George H. Fust, New Orleans, La., for petitioner Michel.
Mr. Leon D. Hubert, Jr., New Orleans, La., for respondent.
Messrs. Felicien Y. Lozes, Rudolph F. Becker, Jr., New Orleans, La., for petitioners Poret and another.
Mr. Adrian G. Duplantier, New Orleans, La., for respondent.
Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Dissenting Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK with whom The CHIEF JUSTICE and Mr. Justice DOUGLAS concur, dissenting.

Petitioners, who are colored, were indicted, convicted and sentenced to death in a Louisiana state court. The grand jury indicting the petitioners was drawn from the parish of Orleans where 32% of the population is colored. Only once within the memory of people living in that parish had a colored person been selected as a grand juror. That juror, who happened to look like a white man, was selected under the mistaken idea that he was one. The foregoing facts are not disputed here.

Each of the petitioners challenges the validity of the indictment against him on the ground that the failure to have colored people on the grand jury was the result of systematic and deliberate exclusion on account of race. In 1875 Congress made it a crime for state or federal officers to disqualify citizens from grand or petit jury service on account of race or color. 18 Stat. 336, as amended, 18 U.S.C. § 243, 18 U.S.C.A. § 243. And since the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment this Court has consistently held that systematic exclusion of Negroes from grand-jury service violates the Federal Constitution. See Patton v. State of Mississippi, 332 U.S. 463, 465-466, 68 S.Ct. 184, 185-186, 92 L.Ed. 76, and cases there cited. The Court holds, however, that these petitioners had a reasonable opportunity to challenge the composition of the grand jury indicting them but failed to do so, thereby waiving their constitutional and statutory rights to have the charges against them considered by a fair and legal grand jury. Without going into the facts of each particular case, I think that the record shows that there was no such reasonable opportunity afforded to petitioners Michel and Poret or their counsel. I shall add a few words, however, about the supposed opportunity of petitioner Poret to challenge the validity of the indicting grand jury.

The state courts have found that Poret fled from Louisiana after allegedly committing the crime for which he was indicted. But the time allowed Poret by state law to challenge the validity of this grand jury expired long before he was arrested and brought back to Louisiana. It is apparent therefore that after his arrest Poret never had any opportunity at all to challenge the grand jury. It is true that if Poret had not fled and had been arrested and had the benefit of counsel early enough he could have challenged the grand jury’s composition. For this reason the Court holds that he forfeited his federally guaranteed right to have his case considered by an unpacked grand jury. I cannot agree that the right to the kind of fair trial guaranteed by the Federal Constitution and congressional enactment can be thus denied by a State. If Poret can be denied this constitutional right, why not others? Could a state statute of limitations like this one declare that anyone under indictment who flees the State has thereby waived his right to counsel or his right to be tried by an unbiased judge? Cf. In re Murchison, 349 U.S. 133, 75 S.Ct. 623.

Poret could have been charged with a federal crime under 62 Stat. 755, 18 U.S.C. § 1073, 18 U.S.C.A. § 1073, for fleeing from one State to another to avoid prosecution. But he could not have been convicted until after adequate notice and a fair trial on an indictment returned by a fair grand jury selected without regard to race or color. And certainly Congress did not by this statute authorize state courts to forfeit the federally protected rights of an accused because he had violated the federal law against fleeing. I suppose Congress would have no power to do such a thing. Under our system even a bad man is entitled to have his case considered at every stage by a fair tribunal.

No sound reasons have been advanced supporting the power of a State to use the device here contrived to justify trial of defendants on indictments returned by grand juries in flagrant violation of the Federal Constitution. The arguments advanced by the Court find no substantial support in any of our prior decisions. On the contrary, this Court has strongly asserted the right of defendants to raise defenses permitted others despite their guilt or innocence of charges that are separate and distinct from those upon which they are tried. See Hovey v. Elliott, 167 U.S. 409, 17 S.Ct. 841, 42 L.Ed. 215. Cf. majority and dissenting opinions in National Union of Marine Cooks & Stewards v. Arnold, 348 U.S. 37, 75 S.Ct. 92. The Court’s opinion here appears to me to give far too little weight to the constitutional and statutory rights of an accused to be indicted and tried by juries selected without racial discrimination.

I would reverse the convictions of Poret and Michel. Since Labat and Poret were jointly indicted by the same unconstitutionally selected grand jury, I would vacate the conviction of Poret’s codefendant Labat. See Ashcraft v. State of Tennessee, 322 U.S. 143, 155-156, 64 S.Ct. 921, 927, 88 L.Ed. 1192, and 327 U.S. 274, 279, 66 S.Ct. 544, 546, 90 L.Ed. 667. Cf. Malinski v. People of State of New York, 324 U.S. 401, 65 S.Ct. 781, 89 L.Ed. 1029.

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