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Turner v. Murray

United States Supreme Court
476 U.S. 28, 106 S.Ct. 1683, 90 L.Ed.2d 27 (1986)


Willie Turner (defendant) attempted to rob a jewelry store in Virginia. Turner demanded that the owner, W. Jack Smith, place money and jewelry into bags. Smith obeyed but triggered a silent alarm. When an officer arrived, Turner acquired the officer’s gun and shot and killed Smith. A grand jury indicted Turner on charges of capital murder. Turner proposed voir dire questions to the trial judge, including one question asking whether the fact that Turner was black and Smith was white affected the jury’s ability to make an impartial decision in the case. The judge rejected the question, and the jurors during voir dire remained unaware that Smith was white. The jury convicted Turner. In order to consider the death penalty under Virginia law, the jury was required to find that Turner was likely to commit future violent crimes or that Turner’s crime involved an outrageous depravity of mind. The jury was also required to consider any mitigating evidence offered by Turner. After the capital-sentencing hearing, during which Turner presented evidence of mental disturbance as a mitigating factor, the jury recommended the death penalty. Turner appealed the sentence, arguing that the trial judge had violated his constitutional right to a fair and impartial jury by declining to ask the proposed question during voir dire. The court disagreed with Turner, citing the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Ristaino v. Ross, 424 U.S. 589 (1976), which stated that a trial judge’s refusal to question jurors about potential racial biases was not unconstitutional unless there were special circumstances present. Turner petitioned for federal habeas corpus. The district court denied the petition, and the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Brennan, J.)

Dissent (Powell, J.)

Dissent (Marshall, J.)

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