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Burch v. Louisiana

United States Supreme Court
441 U.S. 130 (1979)


Facts

Louisiana law provided that nonpetty criminal offenses punishable by more than six months of incarceration required a trial by a six-member jury, with five votes needed for a conviction. Burch (defendant), an individual, and Wrestle, Inc. (Wrestle) (defendant), a corporation, were convicted of charges brought by the State of Louisiana (plaintiff) after a jury trial for showing two obscene motion pictures. Burch’s conviction was by a 5-1 vote, while Wrestle’s verdict was unanimous. Burch was sentenced to two consecutive seven-month jail terms, which were suspended, and was fined $1,000. Wrestle was fined $600 on each count. The defendants appealed to the Supreme Court of Louisiana, arguing that their convictions by a nonunanimous six-member jury violated the jury-trial rights guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The supreme court upheld the convictions, opining that a 5-1 verdict, or 83-percent agreement, was a higher percentage than then the 75-percent requirement previously approved in Johnson v. Louisiana, 406 U.S. 356 (1972), where nine out of 12 votes were needed for a conviction. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

The rule of law is the black letter law upon which the court rested its decision.

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Issue

The issue section includes the dispositive legal issue in the case phrased as a question.

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Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, J.)

The holding and reasoning section includes:

  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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