Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145; 88 S. Ct. 1444; 20 L. Ed. 491 (1968)

Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 145; 88 S. Ct. 1444; 20 L. Ed. 491 (1968)

Facts—Duncan, a black youth, was convicted of simple battery, a misdemeanor punishable by two years’ imprisonment and a $300 fine. He had slapped a white youth and was sentenced in a Louisiana parish court to sixty days and $150 fine. The Court denied Duncan’s request for a jury trial because the Louisiana Constitution granted such trials only in capital punishment cases or in cases of imprisonment at hard labor. Duncan contended that in sentences of two years or more, the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments secured citizens the right of a jury trial.

Question—Must Louisiana grant criminal defendants a jury trial, under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments?


ReasonsJ. White (7–2). The Fourteenth Amendment denies the states the power to “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and in determining the meaning of this language the Court looks for guidance to the Bill of Rights. The Court has already held that many of these rights are protected against state action by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. “We believe that trial by jury in criminal cases is fundamental to the American scheme of justice. We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees a right of jury trial in all criminal cases which—were they to be tried in a federal court—would come within the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee. Since we consider the appeal before us to be such a case, we hold that the Constitution was violated when Duncan’s demand for jury trial was refused. The nation has a deep commitment to the right of jury trial and is reluctant to entrust plenary powers over the life and liberty of the citizen to one judge or to a group of judges.”

J. Harlan argued in dissent that the majority did not give due deference to state rules of criminal procedure.

Note—This decision reversed Jordan v. Massachusetts, 225 U.S. 167 (1912) and Maxwell v. Dow, 176 U.S. 581 (1900).

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