Burch v. Louisiana 441 U.S. 130 (1979)

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BURCH v. LOUISIANA 441 U.S. 130 (1979)

In Burch v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that conviction by a 5–1 vote of a six-person jury in a state prosecution for a nonpetty offense violates the accused's right to trial by jury under the sixth and fourteenth amendments. Burch involved a prosecution for exhibiting two obscene motion pictures.

In two earlier cases, apodaca v. oregon (1972) and johnson v. louisiana (1972), the Court had sustained 10–2 and 9–3 verdicts, and it had also previously ruled in ballew v. georgia (1978) that juries of less than six persons were unconstitutional. In Burch, the Court concluded that "having already departed from the strictly historical requirements of jury trial, it is inevitable that lines must be drawn somewhere if the substance of the jury trial right is to be preserved." It relied mainly upon "the same reasons that led us in Ballew to decide that use of a five person jury threatened the fairness of the proceeding and the proper role of the jury." Burch did not resolve the constitutionality of different majority verdict systems for juries composed of seven through eleven members or majorities of 8–4 or 7–5 on a jury of twelve.

Norman Abrams

(see also: Jury Size; Jury Unanimity.)