OCTOBER TERM, 1996
on petition for writ of certiorari to the supreme court of georgia
No. 96-5369. Decided December 16, 1996
Petitioner was convicted of murder, armed robbery, and aggravated assault by a Georgia jury and sentenced to death. Over his objection, the trial court excused for cause five jurors who expressed reservations about the death penalty. The State Supreme Court affirmed, citing Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U. S. 412, as "controlling authority" for a rule that appellate courts must defer to trial courts' juror bias findings.
Held: Witt is not controlling authority as to the standard of review to be applied by state appellate courts reviewing trial courts' jury selection rulings. Witt arose on federal habeas, where deference to state-court findings is mandated by 28 U. S. C. § 2254(d), but that statute does not govern the standard of review of trial court findings by the Georgia Supreme Court. That court mistakenly believed itself bound by Witt's standard. It is free to adopt that standard, but it need not do so.
Certiorari granted; 266 Ga. 439, 469 S. E. 2d 129, reversed and remanded.
Petitioner was convicted of murder, armed robbery, and aggravated assault by a jury in Taylor County, Georgia, and sentenced to death. At trial, over petitioner's objection, the court excused for cause five jurors who expressed reservations about the death penalty. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed, citing Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U. S. 412 (1985), as "controlling authority" for a rule that appellate courts must defer to trial courts' findings concerning juror bias. 266 Ga. 439, 440-442, 469 S. E. 2d 129, 134-135 (1996).
Wainwright v. Witt, supra, delineated the standard under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments for determining when a juror may be excused for cause because of his views on the death penalty: whether these views would " 'prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath.' " Id., at 424. Addressing petitioner's federal constitutional chal-
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