Lockhart v. McCree

476 U.S. 651
Brief Filed: 12/85
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1986

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 414KB)

Issue

Whether the use of a death-qualified jury in a capital case is unconstitutional

Index Topic

Death Penalty (death-qualified juries)

Facts

McCree was convicted of capital murder in Arkansas and sentenced to life without parole. Because the state originally sought the death penalty, eight prospective jurors were excluded from McCree's jury because they revealed that they would not impose the death penalty under any circumstances. McCree sought a writ of habeas corpus from the federal district court. He argued that social science data proved that the death-qualified jury that convicted him was conviction-prone, in violation of his constitutional rights. The district court granted the petition and ordered the state to retry McCree. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, spending several pages of the opinion reviewing the social science literature and the testimony of the expert psychological witnesses from the habeas hearing. The Supreme Court granted review.

APA's Position

APA submitted an amicus brief arguing that: (1) the social science data tendered by respondent demonstrates that death-qualified juries are more pro-prosecution and unrepresentative than typical criminal juries and that death qualification impairs jury functioning; (2) the social science research has focused on the relevant categories of prospective jurors, including that subset of jurors excludable under Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510 (1968); (3) social science research conducted over the course of three decades directly addresses the constitutional issues at stake, and the data show that (a) death-qualified juries are conviction-prone, (b) the barring of Witherspoon excludable jury members creates unrepresentative juries, thereby implicating defendant's right to a jury composed from a fair cross-section of the community, (c) death qualification excludes a significantly large subset of the population, (d) those excluded through death qualification share common attitudes on issues related to criminal justice, (e) death qualification results in under representation on juries of blacks and women, and (f) the data suggests that death qualification interferes with the proper functioning of the jury; and (4) contrary to the state's criticisms, the social science data tendered by respondent satisfied applicable criteria for evaluating the soundness of scientific research.

Results

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed on both grounds — the claim regarding the Sixth Amendment's right to a jury selected from a fair cross-section of the community and the impartiality claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. Regarding social science evidence, the Court did not condemn social science evidence in judicial decision-making as was urged by the states as amici. The majority found, however, several serious flaws in the social science evidence introduced by the defendant and relied upon by the courts below. The Court stated that even if the social science evidence was methodologically valid and adequate to establish that death qualification produces more conviction-prone juries, nonetheless, the Constitution does not prohibit the states from using death-qualified juries.