Morgan v. Illinois, 504 U.S. 719 (1992)

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certiorari to the supreme court of illinois

No. 91-5118. Argued January 21, 1992—Decided June 15, 1992

The trial of a capital offense in Illinois is conducted in two phases, with the same jury determining both a defendant's guilt and whether the death penalty should be imposed. In accordance with state law, the trial court conducted the voir dire to select the jury for petitioner Morgan's capital murder trial. The State requested, pursuant to Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U. S. 510, that the court ask the jurors whether they would automatically vote against the death penalty no matter what the facts of the case were. However, the court refused Morgan's request to ask if any jurors would automatically vote to impose the death penalty regardless of the facts, stating that it had asked substantially that question. In fact, every empaneled juror was asked generally whether each could be fair and impartial, and most were asked whether they could follow "instructions on the law." Morgan was convicted and sentenced to death. The State Supreme Court affirmed, ruling that a trial court is not required to include in voir dire a "life qualifying" or "reverse-Witherspoon" question upon request.

Held: The trial court's refusal to inquire whether potential jurors would automatically impose the death penalty upon convicting Morgan is inconsistent with the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 725-739. (a) Due process demands that a jury provided to a capital defendant at the sentencing phase must stand impartial and indifferent to the extent commanded by the Sixth Amendment. See, e. g., id., at 518. Pp. 726-728. (b) Based on this impartiality requirement, a capital defendant may challenge for cause any prospective juror who will automatically vote for the death penalty. Such a juror will fail in good faith to consider the evidence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as the instructions require. Cf., e. g., Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U. S. 412, 424. Pp. 728-729. (c) On voir dire a trial court must, at a defendant's request, inquire into the prospective jurors' views on capital punishment. Part of the guarantee of a defendant's right to an impartial jury is an adequate voir dire to identify unqualified jurors. Morgan could not exercise intelligently his challenge for cause against prospective jurors who would unwaveringly impose death after a finding of guilt unless he was given the


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