Grigsby v. Mabry

569 F. Supp. 1273 (1983)

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Grigsby v. Mabry

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas
569 F. Supp. 1273 (1983)


James Grigsby and Ardia McCree (defendants) filed habeas corpus petitions after they were convicted of capital murder. Grigsby and McCree sought to have their convictions set aside because the state excluded any prospective juror who expressed an objection to the death penalty during voir dire from serving as a juror. Because of the United States Supreme Court’s prior ruling in Witherspoon, prospective jurors who indicated during voir dire that they could determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence based on the evidence and on the law but would automatically refuse to impose the death penalty in the sentencing phase of the trial were not death qualified and not allowed to serve as jurors. These prospective jurors were called Witherspoon excludables. The petitioner in Witherspoon had attempted to show that jurors who were proponents of the death penalty were more likely to favor the prosecution in deciding whether to convict a capital defendant. However, the petitioner lacked appropriate social-science research, leaving the attempt to prove this thesis to future defendants. Grigsby and McCree took up this challenge, using scientific studies that were well documented. There were two types of Witherspoon excludables. There were nullifiers, defined as jurors who indicated that they would not find a defendant guilty regardless of the evidence if it meant that the defendant might receive the death penalty. There were also guilt-phase includables, defined as jurors who could make an impartial decision during the guilt phase of a trial. The studies submitted by Grigsby, who later died, and McCree showed that participants who were death qualified were 25 percent more likely to find a defendant guilty than the Witherspoon excludables. Also, the systematic exclusion of Witherspoon excludables would yield 31 percent fewer initial acquittal votes. The study demonstrated that a juror’s attitude toward the death penalty was a stronger predictor of how a juror would vote than any other individual characteristic. The study showed that a juror who was death qualified under Witherspoon was significantly more likely to convict than an excludable juror. Another study showed that whatever verdict a majority of jurors chose on an initial vote taken before the jury began deliberating was the greatest predictor of what that jury’s final vote would be. This demonstrated that reliable information was gained from studying juror attitudes.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Eisele, C.J.)

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