Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Irwin v. Dowd case brief

Irwin v. Dowd case brief summary
366 U.S. 717 (1961)

The United States Supreme Court issued certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to decide if petitioner inmate's conviction for murder and sentence of death had been obtained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Petitioner's request for habeas corpus relief, based on his claim that he was denied a fair trial, had been dismissed.

The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of a court of appeals and a district court, which had held that petitioner's conviction had not been obtained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment because petitioner had obtained a fair trial.


  • The Supreme Court, in remanding the case, held that petitioner had indeed been deprived of a fair trial. Petitioner's right to a jury trial guaranteed him, as accused of committing a crime, a fair trial by a panel of impartial, indifferent jurors. 
  • Petitioner's verdict was to be based upon the evidence developed at trial, regardless of the heinousness of the crime charged or petitioner's apparent guilt. 
  • Here, the Court found that the build-up of prejudice was clear and convincing. 
  • The force of continued adverse publicity caused a sustained excitement and fostered a strong prejudice against petitioner. 
  • A pattern of deep and bitter prejudice was shown to be present. 
  • With his life at stake, it was not requiring too much that petitioner be tried in an atmosphere undisturbed by so huge a wave of public passion and by a jury other than one in which two-thirds of the members admitted, before hearing any testimony, to possessing a belief in his guilt.


The judgments of a court of appeals and of a district court were vacated, and the case was remanded. Petitioner had been denied the right to a trial before an impartial jury as demonstrated by a pattern of deep and bitter prejudice against him and as shown by admissions by two-thirds of the jurors that they had formed a belief as to petitioner's guilt before hearing any testimony.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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