Berghuis v. Smith

559 U.S. 314 (2010)


Defendant was charged with the shooting and killing of a man during a bar brawl in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  At voir dire for defendant’s trial, the venire panel included 60 to 100 individuals, of which three, at most, were black.  The case proceeded to trial in Kent County Circuit Court with an all-white jury, which convicted defendant of second-degree murder and felony possession of a firearm.

An evidentiary hearing on Smith’s Sixth Amendment fair-cross-section claim showed that Grand Rapids was home to 37% of the Kent County population and to 85% of its black residents.  In the six months leading up to defendant’s trial, the jury pool was 6% black compared to a jury-eligible population that was 7.28% black.  Kent County filled the courts’ venires by sending out jury questionnaires, and granted requests for hardship exemptions.  All felony charges in Kent County were prosecuted in a single circuit court, while misdemeanors were prosecuted in 12 district courts covering discrete geographical areas (such as Grand Rapids).  The county filled the district courts’ venires first, then assigned the remaining prospective jurors to the circuit court’s panels.  A month after voir dire for defendant’s trial, the county reversed the assignment order based on the belief that “the respective districts essentially swallowed up most of the minority jurors.”

Procedural History

Defendant was convicted in Kent County Circuit Court.  The trial court rejected defendant’s fair-cross-section claim.  The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed.  The Michigan Supreme Court, in turn, reversed, finding no systematic underrepresentation of African-Americans.  The federal district court dismissed defendant’s habeas corpus petition.  The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, holding that where the allegedly excluded group is small, courts should use the “comparative disparity” test to measure underrepresentation and Kent County’s juror-assignment procedure resulted in systematic exclusion of African-Americans and that no important state interest supported that allocation system.


Was a black criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to be tried by an impartial jury drawn from sources reflecting a fair cross section of the community violated when he was convicted by an all-white jury drawn from a jury pool that was 6% African-American and county that was 7.28% African-American?

Holding / Rule

No.  Reversed.  As described in Duren v. Missouri, to establish a prima facie violation of the fair-cross-section requirement, a criminal defendant must show (1) that the group alleged to be excluded is a “distinctive” group in the community; (2) that the representation of this group in venires from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community; and (3) that this underrepresentation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury-selection process.

Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a habeas petition may not be granted for any claim adjudicated in state court unless the state court’s adjudication resulted in a decision that was (1) contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent; or (2) based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented.

The Michigan Supreme Court’s conclusion that defendant’s evidence did not show that the county’s jury assignment order systematically caused underrepresentation of African-Americans was consistent with Duren and was not unreasonable.


Duren does not specify the method courts must use to measure representation of a distinctive group in a jury pool, and the Court here declined to adopt any method as the only appropriate one.  Absolute disparity (% of group in jury-eligible population – % group in jury pool) and comparative disparity (absolute disparity / % of group in jury-eligible population) can be misleading when the group members are only a small percentage of the jury-eligible population.  And no court has accepted a standard deviation analysis alone as determinative.

In any event, defendant could not establish a causal link between the county’s juror assignment order and the alleged underrepresentation.  He adduced no evidence that blacks were underrepresented on the county circuit court’s venires in significantly higher percentages than on the district courts.  He also did not address whether Grand Rapids, with the largest black population in Kent County, had a greater need for jurors per capita than other districts, or compare the representation of blacks in circuit court venires with those in federal district court venires for the same region.  Defendant’s best evidence was a reported decline in comparative underrepresentation from 18 to 15.1% after the assignment order was reversed, but this relatively small change is insufficient to support his claim, especially in light of AEDPA constraints.

Defendant’s other alleged factors causing systematic underrepresentation—excusing people who merely allege hardship or fail to show up for jury service, reliance on mail notices, failure to follow up on nonresponses or enforce court order for appearance of prospective jurors—do not support his claim either.  “No ‘clearly established’ precedent of this Court supports [defendant’s] claim that he can make out a prima facie case merely by pointing to a host of factors that, individually or in combination, might contribute to a group’s underrepresentation.”  States have broad discretion to prescribe relevant juror qualifications and to provide reasonable exemptions.

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