U.S. Supreme Court
 455 U.S. 209

Decided January 25, 1982

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

Respondent was convicted in November 1974 by a New York state-court jury on two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. After trial, respondent moved to vacate his conviction....

Respondent's original motion to vacate his conviction was based on the fact that a juror in respondent's case, one John Dana Smith, submitted during the trial an application for employment as a major felony investigator in the District Attorney's Office. Smith had learned of the position from a friend who had contacts within the office and who had inquired on Smith's behalf without mentioning Smith's name or the fact that he was a juror in respondent's trial. When Smith's application was received by the office, his name was placed on a list of applicants but he was not then contacted and was not known by the office to be a juror in respondent's trial.

During later inquiry about the status of Smith's application, the friend mentioned that Smith was a juror in respondent's case. The attorney to whom the friend disclosed this fact promptly informed his superior, and his superior in turn informed the Assistant District Attorney in charge of hiring investigators. The following day, more than one week before the end of respondent's trial, the assistant informed the two attorneys actually prosecuting respondent that one of the jurors had applied to the office for employment as an investigator.

The two prosecuting attorneys conferred about the application but concluded that, in view of Smith's statements during voir dire, there was no need to inform the trial court or defense counsel of the application. They did instruct attorneys in the office not to contact Smith until after the trial had ended, and took steps to insure that they would learn no information about Smith that had not been revealed during voir dire. When the jury retired to deliberate on November 20th, three alternate jurors were available to substitute for Smith, and neither the trial court nor the defense counsel knew of his application. The jury returned its verdict on November 21st.

The District Attorney first learned of Smith's application on December 4th. Five days later, after an investigation to verify the information, he informed the trial court and defense counsel of the application and the fact that its existence was known to attorneys in his office at some time before the conclusion of the trial. Respondent's attorney then moved to set aside the verdict.

At the hearing before the trial judge, Justice Harold Birns, the prosecuting attorneys explained their decision not to disclose the application and Smith explained that he had seen nothing improper in submitting the application during the trial. Justice Birns, "[f]rom all the evidence adduced" at the hearing, found that "Smith's letter was indeed an indiscretion" but that it "in no way reflected a premature conclusion as to the [respondent's] guilt, or prejudice against the [respondent], or an inability to consider the guilt or innocence of the [respondent] solely on the evidence."  With respect to the conduct of the prosecuting attorneys, Justice Birns found "no evidence" suggesting "a sinister or dishonest motive with respect to Mr. Smith's letter of application."

In his application for federal habeas relief, respondent contended that he had been denied due process of law under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by Smith's conduct. The District Court found insufficient evidence to demonstrate that Smith was actually biased. Nonetheless, the court imputed bias to Smith because "the average man in Smith's position would believe that the verdict of the jury would directly affect the evaluation of his job application."  Accordingly, the court ordered respondent released unless the State granted him a new trial within 90 days.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed by a divided vote.


In argument before this Court, respondent contends that a court cannot possibly ascertain the impartiality of a juror by relying solely upon the testimony of the juror in question. Given the human propensity for self-justification, respondent argues, the law must impute bias to jurors in Smith's position. We disagree.

This Court has long held that the remedy for allegations of juror partiality is a hearing in which the defendant has the opportunity to prove actual bias. For example, in Remmer v. United States (1954), a juror in a federal criminal trial was approached by someone offering money in exchange for a favorable verdict. An FBI agent was assigned to investigate the attempted bribe, and the agent's report was reviewed by the trial judge and the prosecutor without disclosure to defense counsel. When they learned of the incident after trial, the defense attorneys moved that the verdict be vacated, alleging that "they would have moved for a mistrial and requested that the juror in question be replaced by an alternate juror" had the incident been disclosed to them during trial.

This Court recognized the seriousness not only of the attempted bribe, which it characterized as "presumptively prejudicial," but also of the undisclosed investigation, which was "bound to impress the juror and [was] very apt to do so unduly." Despite this recognition, and a conviction that "[t]he integrity of jury proceedings must not be jeopardized by unauthorized invasions,' the Court did not require a new trial like that ordered in this case. Rather, the Court instructed the trial judge to "determine the circumstances, the impact thereof upon the juror, and whether or not [they were] prejudicial, in a hearing with all interested parties permitted to participate." In other words, the Court ordered precisely the remedy which was accorded by Justice Birns in this case....

Due process does not require a new trial every time a juror has been placed in a potentially compromising situation. Were that the rule, few trials would be constitutionally acceptable. The safeguards of juror impartiality, such as voir dire and protective instructions from the trial judge, are not infallible; it is virtually impossible to shield jurors from every contact or influence that might theoretically affect their vote. Due process means a jury capable and willing to decide the case solely on the evidence before it, and a trial judge ever watchful to prevent prejudicial occurrences and to determine the effect of such occurrences when they happen. Such determinations may properly be made at a hearing like that ordered in Remmer and held in this case.

JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concurring.

I concur in the Court's opinion, but write separately to express my view that the opinion does not foreclose the use of "implied bias" in appropriate circumstances....

I am concerned that in certain instances a hearing may be inadequate for uncovering a juror's biases, leaving serious question whether the trial court had subjected the defendant to manifestly unjust procedures resulting in a miscarriage of justice. While each case must turn on its own facts, there are some extreme situations that would justify a finding of implied bias. Some examples might include a revelation that the juror is an actual employee of the prosecuting agency, that the juror is a close relative of one of the participants in the trial or the criminal transaction, or that the juror was a witness or somehow involved in the criminal transaction. Whether or not the state proceedings result in a finding of "no bias," the Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury should not allow a verdict to stand under such circumstances.*


Juror John Smith vigorously pursued employment with the office of the prosecutor throughout the course of his jury service in respondent's state criminal trial.... Because I find the majority's analysis completely unpersuasive, I dissent.


The right to a trial by an impartial jury lies at the very heart of due process....

The majority concedes the importance of the right to a trial by an impartial jury. It claims, however, that respondent's right was adequately protected here, because the state trial judge conducted a postverdict evidentiary hearing and concluded that Smith was not actually biased. According to the majority, the Constitution requires only that the defendant be given an opportunity to prove actual bias. Indeed, it would apparently insist on proof of actual bias, not only when a juror had applied for employment with the prosecutor's office, but also when the juror was already employed in the prosecutor's office, or when he served as a prosecuting attorney. The majority relies on the premise that an evidentiary hearing provides adequate assurance that prejudice does not exist. This premise, however, ignores basic human psychology. In cases like this one, an evidentiary hearing can never adequately protect the right to an impartial jury.

Despite the majority's suggestions to the contrary, juror Smith was not a passive, indifferent job applicant. He began pursuing employment as an investigator in the Office of the District Attorney on September 23, 1974, the same day he was sworn in. He asked a friend, Criminal Court Officer Rudolph Fontaine, to determine the proper method of applying for employment. Once he had completed his application, he gave it to Fontaine for hand delivery to the District Attorney's Office, apparently because he assumed that the court officer had a personal contact in the office. In addition, after the application had been filed, he met regularly with Fontaine and Jury Warden Mario Piazza in order to determine the progress of his application. On November 21, 1974, the jury returned a verdict of guilt and the trial ended. The very next day, Smith phoned the District Attorney's Office to check on the status of his application. When he was unable to get in touch with anyone who knew about his application, he asked his former supervisor to make inquiries in his behalf.

When a juror vigorously and actively pursues employment in the prosecutor's office throughout the course of a trial, the probability of bias is substantial. This bias may be conscious, part of a calculated effort to obtain a job. The juror may believe that his application will be viewed favorably if the defendant is found guilty. Thus, he may decide to vote for a verdict of guilty regardless of the evidence, and he may attempt to persuade the other jurors that acquittal is not justified. There is also a very serious danger of unconscious bias. Only individuals of extraordinary character would not be affected in some way by their interest in future employment.

Subconsciously, the juror may tend to favor the prosecutor simply because he feels some affinity with his potential employer. Indeed, the juror may make a sincere effort to remain impartial, and yet be unable to do so.

Not only is the probability of bias high, it is also unlikely that a post-trial evidentiary hearing would reveal this bias. As the Court of Appeals stated, given the human propensity for self-justification, it is very difficult "to learn from a juror's own testimony after the verdict whether he was in fact `impartial.'" Certainly, a juror is unlikely to admit that he had consciously plotted against the defendant during the course of the trial. Such an admission would have subjected juror Smith to criminal sanctions. It would also have damaged his prospects for a career in law enforcement. A law enforcement agency is unlikely to hire an investigator whose credibility could always be impeached by an admission that he had disregarded his juror's oath in a criminal trial.

Even when the bias was not part of an affirmative course of misconduct, however, but was unconscious, a juror is unlikely to admit that he had been unable to weigh the evidence fairly. If he honestly believes that he remained impartial throughout the trial, no amount of questioning will lead to an admission. Rather, the juror will vehemently deny any accusations of bias....

I believe that in cases like this one, where the probability of bias is very high, and where the evidence adduced at a hearing can offer little assurance that prejudice does not exist, the juror should be deemed biased as a matter of law. Specifically, where a juror pursues employment with the office of the prosecutor, under circumstances highly suggestive of misconduct or conflict of interest, bias should be "implied," and he should be automatically disqualified, despite the absence of proof of actual bias. If the juror's efforts to secure employment are not revealed until after the trial, the conviction must be set aside. The right to a trial by an impartial jury is too important, and the threat to that right too great, to justify rigid insistence on actual proof of bias. Such a requirement blinks reality.

Adoption of a conclusive presumption of bias in these limited circumstances would not be without precedent; such presumptions of juror bias have ancient historical roots....

The States also employ rules of implied bias. Most jurisdictions have statutes that set forth conduct or status that will automatically disqualify prospective jurors, without regard to whether that person is actually biased. These statutes frequently exclude persons related to the prosecution, defense counsel, a witness, or the defendant. The New York statute, which would have been applied here if juror Smith's intention to apply for a job had come to light during voir dire, is especially broad; it disqualifies any person who has a relationship to a party or witness to the action which is likely to preclude that person from rendering an impartial verdict.

Some state courts have also permitted challenges for implied bias on a case-by-case basis.....Of course, the fact that many States employ rules of implied bias in situations similar to those presented here does not necessarily imply that such rules are constitutionally mandated. The widespread state practice does, however, support that conclusion. The States would not adopt such rules at the expense of their strong interest in efficiently procuring convictions if they were not committed to safeguarding the right to trial by an impartial jury, and if they did not believe that this right was seriously threatened....

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